The Iraq Study Group chickens out.

Military analysis.
Dec. 6 2006 6:12 PM

So Much for Plan B

The Iraq Study Group chickens out.

James Baker and Lee Hamilton. Click image to expand.
James Baker and Lee Hamilton

So many careers and reputations have been ravaged by Iraq. Even James Baker, the canniest of operators, has now met his Waterloo.

Fred Kaplan Fred Kaplan

Fred Kaplan is the author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The report of the Iraq Study Group—which Baker co-chaired with Lee Hamilton, that other Wise Man-wannabe—was doomed to fall short of expectations. But who knew it would amount to such an amorphous, equivocal grab bag.

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Its outline of a new "diplomatic offensive" is so disjointed that even a willing president would be left puzzled by what precisely to do, and George W. Bush seems far from willing.

Its scheme for a new military strategy contains so many loopholes that a president could cite its language to justify doing anything (or nothing).

Contrary to the leaks of the last several days, the report does not call for a pullback of American forces in Iraq. One and a half sentences in the executive summary seem to do that: "By the first quarter of 2008 … all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces."

First, notice that the verb in those passages is "could," not "should." But read that half-sentence in full, and then read on:

At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection, and search and rescue. Intelligence and support efforts would continue.

In other words, the commission does not say that U.S. combat forces should be deployed "only in units embedded with Iraqi forces." It says they should (or, rather, "could") be deployed "only" in Iraqi units and all those other kinds of units, too.

The meaning of "special operations teams" is clear: They're the Delta forces, SEALS, and other shadow soldiers currently chasing down al-Qaida forces and other terrorists. But what is the definition of "rapid reaction" teams? Anything a president or commander wants it to be. How many troops are needed for rapid reaction? As few or as many as he'd like. Ditto, by the way, for "force protection," "search and rescue," and "intelligence and support efforts."

On Page 73, the report's authors go further still: