War studies

War studies

Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now
George McGovern and William R. Polk
Simon & Schuster

The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward—A New Approach
James A. Baker lll, Lee H. Hamilton, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Edwin Meese lll, Sandra Day O’Connor, Leon E. Panetta, William J. Perry, Charles S. Robb and Alan K. Simpson

As Democrats gain tenuous control of Congress, and the ignominious Bush presidency grinds to a close, Americans must face the calamity our “superpower” delusion has perpetrated upon Iraq, and upon ourselves. Two recent books, perhaps best read in tandem, offer guidance that differs sharply from present White House policy.

The much-hyped bipartisan study group labored mightily for eight months, consulting with a wide array of present and past U.S. and foreign (including Iraqi) government officials, military intellectuals and representatives of conservative think tanks and the defense-contract business elite. It steered clear of academic experts on Iraq, independent journalists with experience on the ground there, victims and outright opponents of the war.

No surprise, therefore, that while recognizing that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,” The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward—A New Approach proposes no bold departures. Its concern is to correct what it views as miscalculations by the Bush team and to return to a more rational pursuit of “U.S. interests,” narrowly defined. Indeed, the Report might have been drafted, off the top of his head, by Henry Kissinger. But as a document of current thinking by seasoned managers of our imaginary Empire, it is richly revealing.

Diplomacy must surround the exercise of military power, these experts argue, and governments everywhere (including Syria and Iran) should help get us out of our pickle. We must facilitate peace between Israel and Palestine. Iraqis must take charge (under close supervision) of their own internal affairs; they must learn to get along, to remain united and to pay for their own reconstruction, by and large, while undergoing a military buildup under U.S. auspices. Recommendations 62 and 63 expect them to privatize their state-owned oil industry on terms favorable to the transnational energy corporations. If they don’t do their part, we should threaten reduced support.

Back home, the damage wrought by this war on “military preparedness” must be repaired, at whatever cost, to prepare for new missions abroad.

The authors show little interest in Iraqi concerns, convinced, as they are, that outcomes depend primarily on U.S. policy. Of course, interviewing ordinary Iraqis is difficult for an army of occupation. One startling revelation here is that of a thousand U.S. Embassy staffers in Baghdad’s Green Zone, only 33 speak Arabic—of whom only six fluently!

George McGovern, wise old man of liberal America, teams up with someone who knows a lot about Iraq, historian and veteran state-department analyst William Polk, to tackle the same knotty problem in a refreshingly different, more persuasive manner. In Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now, the pair first explain the difficulty Americans have had in keeping ourselves informed about the war, a result of systematic disinformation by government and cooperating media.

Next, a remarkably lucid historical chapter asks “who are the Iraqis?” and another takes a hard look at the terrible effects on Iraq of 20 years of war. Those two alone are worth the price of the book. Read them, and you’ll be better equipped to formulate a sane and humane Iraq policy than the occupiers, most legislators and certainly the president.

Especially excruciating is their exploration of the cost to American society of this war—lives wrecked or lost, revenues squandered, essential-services denied. Finally, the authors outline a pragmatic plan for expeditious withdrawal that is far from “cutting and running,” focused on Iraqi-led reconstruction with U.N. cooperation.

This proposal derives from a fundamental understanding—rare among U.S. leaders since World War II—that you can’t pour kerosene to put out a fire. Readers may well be left wondering what sort of world we’d be living in today had McGovern been elected president back in 1972.