Thursday, December 21, 2006

Iraq Study Group Answers Wrong Question

My column from the Potomac News last Thursday.

Iraq study group answers wrong question
Potomac News
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Last week the Iraq Study Group (ISG), appointed by Congress to provide "a new way forward", released their report. Their work has not been well-received. Ralph Peters of the New York Post said "The report doesn't offer a plan, but a muddle of truisms and truly bad ideas." Senator John McCain called it "a recipe that will lead to our defeat sooner or later in Iraq." The Associated Press says Democrats "have been slow to endorse the recommendations" of the group. And Senator Lieberman claims it's unrealistic "to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq."

People have taken to derisively calling the ISG the "Iraq Surrender Group". The New York Post labeled Hamilton and Baker "Surrender Monkeys", and ran a picture of two monkeys with the men's faces superimposed. Others called the report "Half-Baked," or "Half-Bakered." One author compared the group's thinking to that of Paris Hilton. Some observed that many recommendations are trivially obvious -- for example, the United States "should remain in close and frequent contact with the Iraqi leadership."

But the bigger problem is not that the report has few answers, but that it asked the wrong question, and sought the wrong goal. Committee co-chair Lee Hamilton, defending the report, said "we want to conclude this war," and "we want to conclude it in a responsible way." The report asks the question "are we winning", and concludes we are losing. It defines the goal as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and seeks to achieve that goal.

But the question is not whether we are winning the war, or even if we can win the war. The real question is why are we fighting at all? What is our goal, what are we trying to achieve, what is our noble cause? Do we have a purpose, and if so, is it worth the sacrifice we are making?

Until we know what we are trying to accomplish, it is pointless to figure out how to accomplish it. Shoot at nothing, and you will hit it every time. Concluding the war is not a goal, it is the result of accomplishing a goal. Bringing the troops home is not a goal, it is what we do when the war is over. And the war should not end until we achieve our goals.

If there is nothing left to finish in Iraq, we should just get out. But very few people think that is true. We still have things that need to be done, which means we're not done yet. So we need to focus on how to win, not how to quit. And "winning" is not found in the recommendations of the ISG, because they did not focus on what needs to be done.

The question is not whether we were right to invade Iraq in 2003. However you feel about that decision, we invaded, and we must deal with things as they are. Iraq is now a democracy, but is racked by violence and is in danger of falling under Iranian influence.

My goals for Iraq would include stabilizing the government, completing the training of troops and police, disarming the militias, and halting the flow of arms and foreign fighters from Iran and Syria -- none of which were things that needed to be done before we invaded.

One thing is certain -- we should not set our goals based on what we "can't do," but rather on what needs to be done. Many times in our history what we had to do seemed impossible -- defeating the British for our independence, and taking back Europe in World War II being two notable examples.

If we had given in to the restriction of what seemed possible, we'd be a failed, second-rate nation today, not the shining beacon and only hope for the world against the forces of evil. We cannot give in to pessimism, self-doubt, and the tyranny of low expectations.

The ISG report is flawed because they focused on what they thought was possible, rather than what was necessary. We need to do what is necessary, to accomplish the impossible, to achieve our goals, and finish the task set before us.

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