Pessimism in Iraq study indicates failure of war, military historian says
Calling the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating" with "no path that can guarantee success," the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended moving most U.S. troops out of combat roles in Iraq by early 2008 in its long-awaited report, which was released Dec. 6.
The panel also recommended the United States change its military role to training the Iraqi Army, engage Iran and Syria in the effort, tackle the Arab-Israeli peace in the broader Middle East initiative and make no open-ended promises to Iraq.
The report was released one day after Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. military is in a stalemate against violent forces in Iraq and is neither winning nor losing the war.
Dr. Geoffrey Wawro, director of the University of North Texas Military History Center and the Major General Olinto Mark Barsanti Professor of Military History, said the pessimism expressed in both the report and by Gates is indicative of "a failure that needs to be addressed" by President Bush and his administration.
"Bush is out of weapons and credibility on the Iraq issue. He's a complete lame duck," he says. "The American people voted in the Democrats precisely to force a rethink on this crucial issue."
The Iraq Study Group report stops short of recommending a timeline for troop withdrawal. Wawro says that makes sense because announcing the withdrawal date will "merely embolden and educate the enemy."
"The real issue that will probably come out of this report is how quickly we will leave, and how we will do it," he says. "I think most people understand that we need to keep some sort of presence in the region. But the issue will become ‘What presence exactly?' Will we leave garrisons - ‘lilypads' in the current parlance - in Iraq, or pull back to more friendly neighboring countries? How deeply will special ops forces be engaged in Iraq after we leave?"
Wawro says that although the report calls for direct talks between the United States and Iran as well as Syria - a move the Bush administration has repeatedly resisted - he says it's unrealistic to believe the panel's suggestion of Iraq's neighboring nations forming a "support group" to help Iraq achieve long-term security and political reconciliation will be achieved.
"Clearly, Iraq's neighbors won't help us create a regime that is favorable to the U.S.," he says, adding that it's equally unlikely that Iraq will be able to form a fully functioning, independent Army and police force.
"It's much more likely that the Iraqi Army will be as useless as the Lebanese Army because the Sunnis won't fight with Shiites and the Shiites won't fight with Kurds except perhaps against an external adversary," Wawro says. "The Lebanese Army can't hold together if it is in the midst of a civil war, so why should it be any different in Iraq, which has similar sectarian divisions?"
Bush has urged Congress to take the Iraq Study Group's proposals seriously and work with the administration to find "common ground" on the Iraq policy. Wawro says Bush is "acting like a statesman" toward the report because he has no other choice.
"One of the primary duties of a war strategist is to constantly reassess the strategy - and that's something that Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld did not do," he says. "The American people want change, and it will happen. Gates doesn't bring a fresh perspective to the situation, but he will be confirmed as Defense Secretary because he's a pragmatist who will draw down the American presence in Iraq because there is no other choice. The war is lost. The Iraqis must now wage it on their own terms."