- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report issued last week after nine months of labor is not worth the price of admission.

It expounds the obvious. Its recommendations are irrelevant to Iraq’s intestine convulsions. It would have the United States wash its hands of Iraq’s civil war which it brought into being, bettering the instruction of Pontius Pilate. And, it dismisses a devolution or partition exit strategy with amateurish analysis.

The report opens by announcing: “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” As understatement, it ranks with Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s acknowledgement after Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “[T]he war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” The report benumbs by tediously repeating common knowledge: climbing sectarian violence; an effete government; ubiquitous corruption; a dysfunctional police and military; and, de facto rule by militias. Charles Dickens’ prolixity, in contrast, at least had the excuse of compensation by the word.

The report’s 79 prescriptions for summoning into being “an Iraq with a broadly representative government that maintains its territorial integrity, is at peace with its neighbors, denies terrorism a sanctuary, and doesn’t brutalize its own people” oscillate between the delusional, the utopian, and the comical. The gold medal for comicality belongs to Recommendation 23: “By the end of 2006: The Central Bank of Iraq will raise interest rates to 20 percent and appreciate the Iraqi dinar by 10 percent to combat accelerating inflation. Iraq will continue increasing domestic prices for refined petroleum products and sell imported fuel at market prices.” The Study Group probably also believes the French Revolution would have been thwarted if King Louis XVI had embraced a more conservative fiscal policy.

Recommendations 12 and 13 fall into the utopian domain. The former urges the United States to persuade archenemy Syria to control its border with Iraq; work together with Iraqis on joint patrols; establish hotlines to exchange information with the Iraqis; and increase its political and economic cooperation with Iraq.

Syria, however, has been a longstanding adversary or worse of both the United States and Iraq. It is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. It champions Hezbollah and Hamas. It profits by Iraq’s strife because it weakens a rival neighbor. It would also profit from a United States defeat or failure in Iraq that would diminish American influence and involvement in the Middle East.

The United States seeks regime change in Syria, an international tribunal to prosecute Syrians implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and an end to Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. In sum, Syria has no incentive to cooperate with the United States to quell Iraq’s upheaval.

Recommendation 13 is even more fatuous: solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has festered for 58 years; and, orchestrate Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese peace agreements. The Study Group might just as well as recommended that swords be beaten into plowshares, and extremists make war no more.

The report’s most delusional recommendations exhort Iraqis to embrace “national reconciliation.” There is no nation of Iraq to be reconciled. It has been artificial since its birth in 1920 from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Its boundaries were dictated by Great Britain to gain control over oil. Kurds, Shi’ites, Sunnis and Turkmen were herded under one national roof, but their overriding loyalties remained ethnic, sectarian or tribal, comparable to the deep fissures in post-World War I Yugoslavia.

The Iraqi police and military are dysfunctional because force and violence are employed to further parochial rather than national ends, not because of insufficient training in the use of firearms. War is customarily 99 percent morale and 1 percent training and weaponry. In 1948, Israel defeated the onslaught of its Arab neighbors despite vastly inferior numbers and arms because its citizens were eager to give that last full measure of devotion for national survival. The United States was defeated in Vietnam and the Soviet Union was ousted from Afghanistan because their respective opponents were more willing to die on the battlefield as long as necessary to prevail.

The best working definition of “nation” is a political group within fixed boundaries capable of marshalling a decisive majority willing to be killed to defend its form of government or territory. Iraq fails that test of nationhood as starkly as Somalia. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi’ites subordinate the interests of a unified Iraq to their respective ethnic or sectarian ambitions, whether in the police, the military or otherwise.

Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki commands no national legitimacy. Thus, corruption is rampant, arms supplied to the Iraqi police and military leak massively into the black market, and flagrantly illegal private militias flourish with impunity. The prime minister would fall within nanoseconds if the United States withdrew its military support.

The report summarily dismissed the idea of devolving or partitioning Iraq into three regions with the observation: “The costs associated with devolving Iraq into three semiautonomous regions with loose central control would be too high.” But “too high” is meaningless without considering the costs of insisting on a unified Iraq. The latter include continued de facto ethnic or sectarian cleansing; vigilante justice in lieu of the rule of law; collapse of the Iraqi economy; the strengthening of Iran and Syria; humiliation of the United States and a corresponding boost in the recruiting fortunes of al Qaeda and Taliban; a climb in U.S. casualties; and, the expenditure of additional staggering sums from the U.S. Treasury, which has already exceeded $400 billion.

In sum, devolution or partition would be a bargain compared with the Study Group’s alternative.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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