Iraq Study Group

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The Iraq Study Group (ISG)—also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission—led by "Republican insider, and consigliere" of the Bush family, James A. Baker III, was created by Congress in March 2006 and has been meeting since to "devise a fresh set of policies to help" President George W. Bush "chart a new course in—or, perhaps, to get the hell out of—Iraq," Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the September 2006 edition of the Washington Monthly.

The Group was formed "at the instigation" of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) following "his third trip to Iraq" in 2005. "Wolf started contacting members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, urging the creation of a high-powered, private task force to take a fresh look at the mess in Iraq," Dreyfuss wrote. "'If you had a very serious illness...and you weren't completely comfortable that everything was going the way you hoped, you'd certainly want to get a second opinion,'" Wolf told Dreyfuss. "At least 30 members of Congress supported the idea, including Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). According to participants in the task force, a key silent partner with Wolf in putting it together was his Virginia Republican colleague, Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services committee."

"But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well," Dreyfuss wrote, seeing the Group's mission along the lines of possible damage control.

"The emergency, in this case, is the collapse of public support for the war in Iraq, the president's catastrophic fall in the polls, the growing calls on the left for a pullout of U.S. forces, and the concern at the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the Pentagon's inability to sustain the presence of 127,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely."
"'Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home—that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics,' a member of one of the commission's working groups told [Dreyfuss]. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the [Bush] administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. 'I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train.'"

Study Group Results Released December 6, 2006

The 142-page report—"The Iraq Study Group Report. The Way Forward, A New Approach" authored by co-chairs James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton—was presented to President George W. Bush and Congress, as well as made available to the public, on Wednesday, December 6, 2006.

The report can be downloaded from the website of the United States Institute of Peace, "which has been coordinating the 10-member commission’s activities over the last eight months. The institute’s Web site is www.usip.org." [1]

Also see:

  • Excerpts of the Report can be found here and here, provided by the Associated Press.
  • Leaked information from the report is here, provided by the BBC.

Findings from the Report

Bush's War Policies Have Failed

President George W. Bush's "war policies have failed in almost every regard" and the Study Group "warned of dwindling chances to change course before crisis turns to chaos," Anne Gearan wrote December 7, 2006, for the Associated Press.

Violence in Iraq is Underreported

The Bush administration "routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings," Jonathan S. Landay reported December 7, 2006, for McClatchy Newspapers. "The bipartisan group called on the Pentagon and the director of the U.S. intelligence community to immediately institute a new reporting system that provides 'a more accurate picture of events on the ground'."

U.S. Should Privatize Iraqi Oil Industry

The United States should "assist in privatizing Iraq's national oil industry, opening Iraq to private foreign oil and energy companies, providing direct technical assistance for the 'drafting' of a new national oil law for Iraq, and assuring that all of Iraq's oil revenues accrue to the central government," Antonia Juhasz reported December 7, 2006, in AlterNet.

Civilians Could Be Ordered to Serve in Iraq

The Bush administration "must make sure that it has sufficient civilian personnel in Iraq -- if necessary, by ordering some employees to serve there," Tom Shoop reported December 6, 2006, for GovExec.com.

"'The nature of the mission in Iraq is unfamiliar and dangerous, and the United States has had great difficulty filling civilian assignments in Iraq with sufficient numbers of properly trained personnel at the appropriate rank,' wrote members of the Iraq Study Group, ... For example, panel members said, the United States still has 'far too few Arab language-proficient' officials in the country.

"To address the problem, the group recommended that the secretaries of State and Defense and the Director of National Intelligence put the 'highest possible priority' on language and cultural training for military personnel and civilian employees about to be assigned to Iraq. And, the report said, if not enough of the latter group volunteer to go to the country, 'civilian agencies must fill those positions with directed assignments'," Shoop wrote.

Quick Media Takes upon Report's Release

  • The Iraq Study Group recommends that Bush "threaten to reduce economic and military support for Iraq's Government if it fails to meet benchmarks intended to improve security in the country. ... Among other things, ... the report urged Mr Bush to aggressively tackle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to reduce broader regional tensions fuelling the Iraq conflict."—Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, December 6, 2006. [2]
  • "Some of the recommendations conflict with President George W. Bush's past stances on dealing with Iraq, including bringing Iraq's neighbors into talks about ways quell the sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of Iraqi lives."—Brendan Murray, Bloomberg, December 6, 2006. [3]
  • "U.S. troops should begin withdrawing from combat and Washington should launch a diplomatic and political push to halt a 'grave and deteriorating' crisis in Iraq."—Arshad Mohammed and Steve Holland, Reuters, December 6, 2006. [4]
  • The report "warns of the 'consequences of continued decline', spokesman Tony Snow said. ... It stops short of a firm timetable for a US troop pullout and urges talks with Iran and Syria on their neighbour."—BBC, December 6, 2006. [5]
  • "'There is no magic formula.'" The report recommends "new and enhanced diplomacy ... so the United States can 'begin to move its combat forces' out of the country responsibly."—Anne Plummer Flaherty, Associated Press/ABC News, December 6, 2006. [6]

Anticipated Study Group Recommendations

The draft report on "strategies for Iraq" will be debated by the Iraq Study Group on Monday, December 4, 2006. The report "urges an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative that includes direct talks with Iran and Syria but sets no timetables for a military withdrawal, according to officials who have seen all or parts of the document." [7]

"While the diplomatic strategy appears likely to be accepted, with some amendments, by the 10-member Iraq Study Group, members of the commission and outsiders involved in its work said they expected a potentially divisive debate about timetables for beginning an American withdrawal." [8]

Baker, who served as President Ronald Reagan's first chief of staff and then as secretary of state and campaign manager for President Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, "with a long-standing reputation of caution and service to Republican presidents, is joining a growing list of prominent Republicans lobbying for change in President George W. Bush's Iraq policy," the Associated Press reported October 10, 2006.

Baker and Iraq Study Group co-chair, former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, a Democrat, will lead the special independent bipartisan commission "to recommend that the president consider options to his 'stay-the-course' strategy in Iraq."

Iraq Study Group: Officials Interviewed

Not on the list

On November 14, 2006, Mike Boyer wrote in the Passport Blog at Foreign Affairs Online that the "list is notable for its exceptions. ... This commission appears as isolated from the academy as the Bush administration is," Boyer wrote.

The following are NOT found on the list of officials who have been interviewed by the Iraq Study Group (as stated by Boyer):

  1. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, "perhaps the one U.S. official who has addressed the Iraq debacle with some candor and foresight -- and certainly the one official history will look kindly upon."
  2. John McCain, Chuck Hagel, and John Kerry, "three of the U.S. Senate's most notable veterans of combat. This one is mind blowing."
  3. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, "two key architects of the war, one a former dean of one of the most prestigious IR schools in the country."
  4. Madeleine K. Albright and Warren Christopher. "The views of Team Clinton don't appear very welcome."
  5. Henry Kissinger, "the dean of the foreign-policy establishment."
  6. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. "The former commanders in chief (one of whom actually won a war and flew 58 combat missions in WWII) remain on the sidelines."
  7. Fouad Ajami, Shibley Telhami, Bernard Lewis, Ray Takeyh, Kanan Makiya, and "other notable scholars on the Middle East."
  • Also not listed are:
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who used his one-hour video testimony with the Iraq Study Group on November 14, 2006, to "press his case that a settlement of the Palestine-Israel dispute would be the single best way of calming the chaos in Iraq." [9]
  • Clinton administration members Richard Holbrooke, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and Sandy Berger, former National Security Adviser. [10]

Bait and Switch

"This is a very bad idea for so many reasons it would take me forever to list them all."—Juan Cole, Informed Comment, October 8, 2006. [11]

"Pay attention and don't let the Baker Commission pull a fast one. The whole point of the Commission is to declare victory and go home. Democrats should do that first. We should have been doing it since the last Iraqi election," Sean-Paul Kelley wrote in The Agonist, October 9, 2006.

"The outline of the Commission's conclusions will be something like this: a tri-partite Confederated Iraq, with each confederate party largely autonomous; American forces, in small numbers will remain behind in Kurdistan (and possibly elsewhere if political considerations warrant) to both keep the Kurds from declaring independence and to project power," Kelley wrote. "Think Germany after WWII: American troops were there to keep the Germans down and the Russians out, same principal with the Kurds and Turkey. Finally, there will be some kind of a phased withdrawal, strategic redeployment, retreat or whatever you want to call the day when the vast majority of our troops bug out of Iraq.

"The withdrawal will be the most contentious issue but it's the easiest to predict. There will be arbitrary metrics of success to be met before a troop draw-down can begin. Once the metrics are met the politicians declare victory and the troops go home. Of course, we won't meet any of the metrics because they will be easily fudged (Iraq meet Enron). And once again the Republicans will have, for all intents and purposes, stolen Jack Murtha's idea, although with a bit more polish.

"This should be a brickbat the Democrats should beat over Bush's head. A simple refrain really, 'release the commission conclusions and let's debate them before the election. After all the American people deserve a real choice.'

"The other wildcard is Bush himself. Will he take Baker's advice? Or will he stay true to his nature, as Atrios predicts?", Kelley wrote.

Working Groups

Working groups have met since April 2006, including "former ambassadors and State Department officials, intelligence officers from the CIA and other parts of the U.S. intelligence community, and think-tank denizens from the RAND Corporation, the Nixon Center, the Henry L. Stimson Center, the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Middle East Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, and others, along with a panel of retired military officers: three army generals, an air-force general, and an admiral," Dreyfuss wrote.

"[S]cattered among the members of the working groups, are a handful of hard-line neocons, among them Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East hand who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. But they are vastly outnumbered by the moderates and centrists," Dreyfuss wrote.

Iraq Study Group Members

Group members include:

Individuals

Working Groups

See lists of Iraq Study Group Working Groups' members.

Think Tanks

Resources and articles

Related SourceWatch articles

External articles

Note: This article was created August 18, 2006.