(HOST) The bi-partisan Iraq Study Group’s call for a fundamental shift in U.S. Iraq policy is, according to commentator Barrie Dunsmore, a remarkably stark warning to the President, the Congress and the American people.
(DUNSMORE) The seventy-nine recommendations of this panel of ten prominent Republicans and Democrats form an indictment of the past four years of the Bush Administration’s Iraq and Middle East policies. There is no other way to read them. Nearly every one of the proposals represents a significant change from current policies. And they come with a warning that the current situation in Iraq is “grave and deteriorating” and may become a “humanitarian catastrophe” unless the U.S. changes course.
At first glance it may seem that none of the suggestions of the panel is that new or radical.
Those recommendations come in three inter-related areas.
On the military side, there’s a call for a pull back of all American combat brigades over the next fifteen months – and a significant increase in the number of American trainers and advisors for Iraqi forces.
As for Iraq’s political situation, the report recommends a warning to the Iraqis that the American commitment is not open ended.
It suggests setting benchmarks for the Iraqi Government: to achieve national reconciliation among its religious and ethnic sects; to provide better security; and to govern more effectively or – face reductions in U.S. military and economic assistance.
On the diplomatic front the panel proposes the convening of a conference of Iraq’s neighbors and key members of the international community to prevent the spread of violence to the whole region. This meeting could lead to direct American talks with Iran and Syria which the panel endorses. The report also urges an invigorated initiative to try to resolve the Israeli Palestinian dispute.
Both in its tone, and its details, the report is unsparing in its implicit and sometimes explicit criticism of the administration’s policies. For example, the spreading of democracy to Arab lands, one of the principal reasons the president frequently citied for the invasion of Iraq, is not even mentioned except to say that most countries of the region are wary of it.
Damning details include the fact, that of the 1000 people in the American embassy in Baghdad, only six speak Arabic fluently. And the commission alleges that there has been a suppression of accurate reporting by U.S. officials on the level of violence. It claims that one day in July the military reported 93 acts of violence but on closer examination there had actually been 1100.
This leaves us with two basic questions. First, do the recommendations have a chance to succeed? This is by no means certain but they do represent a new and bi-partisan approach to Iraq which is desperately needed if greater chaos and catastrophe are to be avoided.
Second, will President Bush accept the proposals? He has publicly said all the right things and I expect the White House to continue to spin it in a way that doesn’t look like outright rejection. But to embrace this program would require him to do a complete ideological U-turn. And there is nothing in the president’s record that suggests this is likely to happen.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.