Transcript

Iraq Study Group Announces Recommendations

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Michael Eisenstadt
Director, Military and Security Studies Program, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Wednesday, December 6, 2006; 2:00 PM

Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was online Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.

Iraq Panel Calls Conditions 'Grave and Deteriorating', ( Dec. 6)

VIDEO: Bush Comments on Iraq Study Report

The transcript follows.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Mike!

Based on the ISG Report, it seems that the strategy going forward is to further train up the ISF so they can take over security.

How is this military strategy any different than what has been taking place since Fall 2004, and what are the prospects for success given the increasingly weak, fractured and sectarian central government that is supposed to command (and command the loyalty of) these security forces?

Thanks!

Michael Eisenstadt: The ISG is recommending a change of emphasis with regard to the imbedding effort. Until now, the effort has not received the emphasis it deserves. The report now states that some 3,000-4,000 have been involved as imbedded trainers until now, and it recommends an increase in the number to 10,000-20,000, and the creation of incentives to attract the Army and Marine Corps' best and brightest to this effort. These would be useful changes if implemented. But in the end, as the report notes, the US cannot do for the Iraqis what they will not do for themselves, and unless the ministries involved (Defense and Interior) and the government change the way they do business, the effort may ultimately be doomed.

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Washington, D.C.: What difference will the ISG report make. Will it be political or on the ground in Iraq?

Michael Eisenstadt: Hard to say, since the environment in Washington is so politically charged. There are some useful recommendations that DoD was probably disposed to adopt, and others that the Administration will assert that it is already in the process of adopting. And critics of the Administration will criticize it for not implementing the recommendations that it rejects.

Ultimately, what will decide this war, I believe is the perseverance and resolve of the American people. And it seems that the patience of the American people with the war effort is wearing thin. This is the decisive factor, and will overshadow the impact of any study group report.

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Washington, D.C.: Has someone from the study report ever heard the world 'ownership'? As a development practitioner working with developing African countries, I'm pretty much aware of the great benefits of working with local leaders in supporting them in coming up with a plan of their own. In a country like Iraq, and in a region such as the Middle East, I can't simply understand why this report does not include not even one single major Iraqi leader, and the participants spent merely 4 days in the country. How do you pretend to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the situation, and even propose alternatives from a couple of offices in D.C.? In the Arab world, people say: 'The Egyptians read, the Lebanese edit, and the Iraqis read'. Think about it.

Michael Eisenstadt: I thought the report was pretty clear in assigning to Iraq's political leadership and the Iraqi people ultimate responsibility for the future of their country. I respectfully disagree with you on this point.

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Silver Spring, Md.: At first pass, this plan seems like a hard-headed political solution to the Iraq quandary, but I'm confused. It warns about the potential dangers to the region of our leaving right away, but also says we should in all likelihood leave in 2008 even if the situation in Iraq doesn't improve. Isn't it, in effect, saying, let's give this one more chance before pulling out?

Michael Eisenstadt: It says all combat brigades should be gone by first quarter of 2008, but it allows for the continued presence of imbedded trainers, force protection units, and support and service support personnel.

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Sacramento, Calif.: I think the report is based on the faulty premise that Iraq has a government that can be saved. I believe that the problems in Iraq are systemic to lack of social infrastructure that is needed to support a functioning Iraqi democracy. Scholars have proved time and time again that democracy has important preconditions that must be in place before it can work. These do not exist in Iraq and they take generations to be put into place. For this report to have been credible in my opinion it had to have admitted that a democratic government will not work in Iraq and it needed to have offered an alternative governing structure for that society.

What do yo think?

Michael Eisenstadt: The emphasis in the report was on a government that can "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself." It then defined it as a "broadly representative government" (note: not a democratic government). Whether even this goal is attainable remains to be seen, but it is a more modest definition of US goals than we've seen in the past.

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Irvine, Calif.: Since reading Peter Galbraith I've been a convert to the practical alternative of partitioning into a loose federation of Shia, Sunni and Kurd sectors: in which the U.S. withdraws to Kurdistan to guarantee that it neither threatens nor fears Turkey and Iran, and to ensure the Sunnis gets their share of oil revenue from the other two. The downsides to this - in particular the fear that al Qaeda would take over Sunniland - seem greatly overstated: both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would prevent anything bigger than the kind of radical cell that is possible just about anywhere - certainly no worse than Pakistan. There is going to be some ethnic cleansing at the borders and emigration by the educated Sunni/secular class, but this will happen under any scenario anyway. Senator Biden has shown some interest in the Galbraith concept and I wonder what you think.

Michael Eisenstadt: I believe that the report struck exactly the right note on the issue of partition: the US should not expedite such a process, though should it occur (and it might yet occur), we should then try to mitigate its consequences. I believe, however, that Iraq is more likely to break down than to break up (into three parts), with the emergence of numerous militias and worldlords controlling villages, towns, and urban neighborhoods--rather than three large autonomous regions.

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Chicago, Ill.: If we draw down most of our combat troops to shift to an advisory/training role, how safe with those troops be? Will they be alone with those Iraqi units? They will have their own force protection? Seems like a vulnerable position to leave those guys in. How does all that training work? Thanks for any input on these issues.

Michael Eisenstadt: The imbeds are more vulnerable than US troops operating in US units, and so this option entails a greater degree of risk, but it will also--hopefully--improve the chances for success in Iraq. These are the kinds of trade-offs that military commanders make all the time, and our troops stoically accept these kind of risks on a daily basis, as part and parcel of their chosen calling. And for this, we must not miss an opportunity to thank them for their sacrifices and their service to our country, we must always keep in mind those who have fallen in defense of freedom, and we must ensure that their families are taken care of.

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Charlottesville, Va.: One of the main suggestions of the ISG Report (and a proposal that has been widely discussed in the press in the past few weeks) is to dramatically increase the number of American servicemen embedded in Iraqi units. As someone who did two tours in Iraq as a Marine, I feel confident in saying that doing so would put those Americans at MUCH higher risk than they would be in an American unit. Do you think the public or policy makers understand that? Furthermore, is it fair to ask...no, order...someone to go into combat with a Third World army when they enlisted with the expectation that when they put their life on the line, it would be with other United States Marines? (Or soldiers, sailors, etc.)

Michael Eisenstadt: You are right that risk will increase, but the number of soldiers involved in such missions will still be relatively small. Its not clear, overall, what impact this will have on US casualty rates. As for the fairness issue, soldiers don't get to choose the wars they fight, who they fight with, or who they fight against. As someone who has served, I suspect that you know and understand that the fairness principle does not apply to the military. Such is the lot of the soldier....

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Washington, D.C.: So if we leave now, this might cause a bloodbath and a wider regional war, but if the Iraqi govt fails to make substantial progress in the next year (which seems likely) then the U.S. should phasedown its support of the govt. My question is--won't Iraq be as likely to face a bloodbath and wider regional war then? And could we realistically walk away then, knowing that the country might be facing a bloodbath?

Michael Eisenstadt: You raise a valid point. We might end up two or three years from now leaving Iraq and doing what the administration is arguing against now, with the same horrendous consequences the administration is warning against. Either way, disengagement will be wrenchingly difficult, politically controversial, and perhaps disastrous for Iraq, the region, and US standing in the world. And if things don't get better in Iraq, it may ultimately be the way we go.

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Albany, N.Y.: Isn't the main difference between Bush and the ISG one of ultimate goals now? The ISG's goal is to extricate the U.S. from a bad situation while causing the least damage on the way out. Bush's goal is to stay until Iraq is a peaceful and more or less democratic society

Michael Eisenstadt: The way that the ISG report defines US policy goals is still reasonably close to the way that the Administration defines these (see p. 40 of the ISG report, and compare it to the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq"). The report also seems to still endorse the "clear, hold, and build" strategy enounced in the "Victory in Iraq" document (see p. 87 of the ISG report)--although it does not devote a lot of space to this issue. It also does not assess the prospects for the Iraqi Security Forces prevailing in a traditional counterinsurgency campaign (i.e., clear, hold, and build), but emphasizes the need for the US to extricate itself from Iraq. I agree that this is really the subtext of the report: how to extricate the US from Iraq while doing what is possible, with the resources available and in a reasonable time frame, to achieve an acceptable outcome in Iraq. It is interesting that the report did not even address the issue of the size of the armed forces, and the possibility of implementing a national service law (not a draft) in order to get additional conscripts for the military. But perhaps they felt that matter fell outside their mandate, or was too politically sensitive an issue to be addressed in the report.

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washingtonpost.com: Thank you all for joining us today.

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