Though triggered by the need to devise an exit strategy from the Iraqi quagmire, the Iraq Study Group’s grim report is a devastating indictment of the Bush administration’s entire foreign policy. The report challenges the core principles of a faith-driven administration and of a president whose political gospel led him to a sharp departure from the culture of conflict resolution in favor of a crusade based on raw power.
A war that cannot be ended is sometimes worse than a war that is lost. Therefore, the Iraq report is more than a plan to rescue Iraq; it is a road map for extricating America from the mayhem of an unwinnable war. However much the study group shunned recommendations for a precipitous withdrawal, and avoided strict timetables for disengagement, their report is not only an unequivocal repudiation of Bush’s “stay the course” obsession, but also a counsel to cut and run.
Indeed, there is no realistic chance that the Iraqi army and police will be able to take over combat responsibilities and effective policing any time soon. The entire security apparatus in Iraq is corrupt and infiltrated by insurgents. Nor is it at all clear to what degree the Iraqis retain a stake in the idea of a united Iraqi state worth fighting for. The report practically calls for ending all support to the Iraqi government if it fails to assume its responsibilities.
None of the Middle East’s problems has a military solution, and none can be solved through unilateral action. The report is therefore right to challenge Bush’s insistence on discarding both Iran and Syria as interlocutors for a more stable regional order. Iran has the most leverage inside Iraq, and Syria has become a vital crossing point for weapons and insurgents into the Iraqi battlefield. There is simply no way that Iraq can be stabilized without America moving from a policy of disengagement to one of engagement with these two major regional spoilers.