- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

In analyzing the conclusions and the usefulness of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) recommendations on Iraq policy released yesterday, it’s important to realize the limited, seriously flawed mandate the panel chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton has been operating under. Panel members say they were not given a mandate to consider increasing the number of American troops in Iraq because their military briefers dismissed out of hand the premise that it was possible to increase the number of American troops in Iraq, on grounds that not enough were available. (Never mind the public comments by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, reported in this space yesterday, suggesting otherwise.) More than 30 pages of the report consist of biographies of commission members and lists of people they interviewed; we counted just five pages devoted to the matter of U.S. troop levels in Iraq — most of it dismissing out of hand the idea that more troops might be necessary to fight the Sunni and Shi’ite jihadists who prey upon Iraqis.

Even more troubling is the fact that panel members said their mandate was primarily limited to finding a a way to stabilize Iraq alone, (although they could consider the regional context) rather than assessing it in the context of the larger U.S. war against international Islamofascism. Given the fact that the Baker-Hamilton panel did not principally consider the most important issue before the country, it is not a surprise that its report as a whole is a step backward — a compendium of platitudes and wishful thinking that taken together would reward America’s enemies and undermine the larger war against Islamofascism.

As is often the case when highly distinguished people of varying political persuasions get together in an effort to reach consensus, the end result is a watered-down document that will do little to help the president or congressional policy-makers come up with a more effective strategy in the war. Much of the report consists of ominous but familiar quotes from terrorist luminaries like al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and restatements of the obvious (for example, “SCIRI has close ties with Iran; “the Iran border with Iraq is porous”; and “The United States should work closely with Iraq’s leaders to support the achievement of specific objectives — or milestones — on national reconciliation, security, and governance”). In other places, the panel makes sensible-sounding, noncontroversial proposals for reforming U.S. assistance programs for Iraq and building a functioning Iraqi judicial system and oil industry.

But in critical areas, the report goes in precisely the wrong direction. For example, it calls on Washington to “engage directly with Iran and Syria” in order to “obtain their commitment to constructive polices toward Iraq and other regional issues.” After noting the obvious — that engaging Iran is “problematic” — it calls for a diplomatic campaign to persuade Tehran to join an “Iraq International Support Group” to help resolve Iraq’s “political, diplomatic and security problems.” If Iran refused to help, the panel warns darkly, then its rejectionist attitude could “lead to its isolation.” More likely, such a campaign would embolden Tehran, which would see such a move for what it really is: an act of desperation.

The panel’s suggestions that Washington should also broker agreements with Syria to stop arms shipments into Iraq and help persuade Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist are completely detached from reality. Some of the major recommendations in the report read like articles of surrender.