Over three years after President Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished” in Iraq, U.S. troops are still heavily engaged and the Iraqi people have yet to taste the fruits of real democracy. Instead, the country remains deeply divided, and corruption and tribalism prevent any real progress toward Iraq’s stability.

Enter a 10-member, bipartisan panel made up of experts dubbed the Iraq Study Group, sent in to evaluate all areas of the conflict: Political, security and economic.

The group released its report on Wednesday, Dec. 6, and its conclusions were grim: “The challenges [to bring stability to Iraq] are daunting ... The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”

Recently the Tahlequah First Presbyterian Church held an informal policy forum, “Where Do We Stand? Terror, Torture and U.S. Policy,” where one speaker, Dr. Ron Becker, professor at Northeastern State University and director for the model United Nations program, suggested that participants pay close attention to the actions of the Iraq Study Group.

Two participants, Dr. Robert McQuitty, retired NSU English professor; and Jeannette Wilson, Tahlequah resident; heeded Becker’s advice.

Both were interested in the outcome of the report because it involved representatives of both political parties.

“I was interested in the Iraq Study Group because it represents a bipartisan attempt to deal with an issue that threatens to greatly diminish both the role and the value of the U.S. in the world,” said Wilson. “It is the only group reporting to the president and the Congress that does not have an axe to grind. Other agencies, such as the Cabinet-level positions and the military, have their own axes to grind. So do both political parties. Members of this panel, I believe, left their partisanship at the door, but not their patriotism.”

McQuitty agreed.

“The report was, of course, highly touted in the media well before it came out and that sparked my interest,” said McQuitty. “However, I was mainly interested because of the nature of the study group - a bipartisan group - rather than the usual partisan goops.

The group listed 79 recommendations to aid in bringing peace to the region and reduce the burden placed on the American people and the U.S. military, and strongly urged the administration to implement the plan in a comprehensive fashion.

“It is the unanimous view of the Iraq Study Group that these recommendations offer a new way forward for the United States in Iraq and the region,” the conclusion of the summary states. “They are comprehensive and need to be implemented in a coordinated fashion. They should not be separated or carried out in isolation. The dynamics of the region are as important to Iraq as events within Iraq.”

While trying to gain information about the report, both McQuitty and Wilson sought out myriad sources of information and opinion.

The report recommended reducing troop levels in Iraq in a slow, systematic fashion over the next year, as well as working closely with Iran and Syria to bring stability.

“I do not pay much attention to TV,” said McQuitty. “I noticed [Sen.] Jim Inhofe’s [R-Okla.] criticism in the next day’s Tulsa World and that [Sen.] John McCain [R-Ariz.] was still pushing for increasing the U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq. I thought it was interesting that most of the criticism of the plan came from Republicans. [Rep.] Dan Boren [D-Okla.] was his usual Caspar Milquetoast self on the issue, hoping not to offend anyone. I also listened to two discussion of the report on the Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio.”

Boren was quoted in the Tulsa World as saying he looks “forward to taking a thorough look at all of those [recommendations] as Congress works with the administration on a new course of action.”

Inhofe was more aggressive in his reaction, saying “Whatever needs to take place should take place, but giving dangerous concessions to Iran and Syria is not acceptable and will ultimately only serve to weaken the national security of the United States.”

Both Inhofe and Boren serve on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

Wilson appreciated the group’s suggestion to work diplomatically.

“The focus on a political-diplomatic solution is something that should surprise no one as the problem has unfolded in all its complexity,” said Wilson. “This is not an issue that can be dealt with in a military-only manner, it is delusional to think that more troops is a solution.”

McQuitty was unimpressed with comments made by Inhofe, but understands the importance of having the right people for the job when dealing with Syria and Iran.

“If naive negotiators are sent to deal with Syria and Iran, then yes, we are in trouble,” he said. “But I would hope that the Bush administration would or could find men of caliber of the study group to implement the plans.”

Inhofe was not the only official to dismiss the idea of dealing with Syria and Iran; President Bush believes conditions should be in place for meetings, despite the group’s recommendation to the contrary.

“I despaired at hearing [Bush placing conditions on meetings] because it appeared that Bush didn’t understand that the report was a comprehensive one that emphasized diplomatic negotiations,” said McQuitty. “I endorse the study group’s plan to get the ‘players involved.’ The study group’s plan is, as I said, about diplomacy.”

McQuitty also recognized that the plan was already being parsed by administration officials, instead of being treated as a whole.

‘That it [plan] will be ‘cherry-picked’ is, I suppose, almost inevitable in a democracy,” he said.

A discrepancy regarding the number of private contractors was found in the report, as on page 7 it is quoted as stating “There are roughly 5,000 civilian contractors in the country [Iraq.”

A Dec. 5 Washington Post report quoted a military census as listing the number of contractors at 100,000, nearly the same number of military troops on the ground.

McQuitty was not concerned about the discrepancy after doing some research.

“[Commentator] George Will notes that events have already overtaken and destroyed the facts upon which the study group’s plans were based,” said McQuitty. “This lack of solid, factual basis for the study group’s plan does not unduly upset me, though I found the statement that there are almost as many contractors there as soldiers quite startling. “Inasmuch as the group’s plans propose new ideas, new directions, I am for them.”

Wilson was also pleased to seek that the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict took a central role in the group’s deliberations.

“I don’t think that those of us in the U.S. understands either the depth or the intensity of the conflict,” said Wilson. “After World War II, the issue of the Holocaust seemed to call for a homeland for the Jews. It was placed in what was then the state of Palestine. For Arabs who lived there it was the effect of not only losing the land their families had occupied for generations, but of having the new people receiving so much help from the West during this time. There were not only religious issues playing out, but cultural ones, as well, within both groups as well as between them.”

Wilson cited the division of the Ottoman Empire following World War I as possibly the beginning of the problems in the region.

“After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was carved into ‘states’ that did not take ethnic, cultural or religious differences into account,” she said. “Iraq is such a state. It contains, as we are well learning, Shia and Sunni forms of Islam; Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman language groups; many tribal identities and a variety of other forms of division.”

Wilson believes the key to the future is in learning from the past.

“History doesn’t give mulligans; what has been done has been done,” she said. “But, as a nation, the U.S. must learn that Iraq is not the only problem. This report acknowledges that.”

Many may question why Iran and Syria would be interested in aiding to restore peace in Iraq. Wilson believes all nations in the region, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and the Gulf States, want peace.

“All of these states desire peace and prosperity,” said Wilson. “An unstable Iraq would indefinitely prevent this condition. Also Iran would face a huge number of Shia refugees fleeing into their country if conditions in Iraq continue to deteriorate. That would be destabilizing to their society.

“Incidentally, [Iran’s] president [Ahmadinijad] for all his press, is not the real power in Iran. It is the ayatollahs. Syria also does not want to be the international ‘bad boy’ forever. They want trade and investment. As a predominately Sunni society, it does not want a Shiite Iraq next door. Problems are exportable. Saudi Arabia definitely does not want an unstable Shiite Iraq next door for the same reasons. Turkey has been fighting for generations against Kurdistan.”

Wilson believes a fragmented Iraq would heighten the problem and give a core to Kurds in both Turkey and Iran.

“Israel may be the linchpin,” said Wilson. “If the Golan Heights go back to Syria, the Syrians are much more likely to quit fomenting revolution against Israel. Israel, without substantial U.S. backing, has a limited life-span in terms of population in this area. I believe they are already outnumbered by Arabs in Israel.”

Wilson understands that it will take a multinational approach to prevent a spiral into a regional conflict, and was disheartened at the rejection of the report by not only U.S. officials, but many foreign entities, including some Arabs, Kurds, Iraqi officials and, sadly enough, Iraqi citizens.

“Extremists of all stripes are dangerous,” she said. “Every voice being raised in the Middle East presently has a horse in the race. All these voices deploring the Baker-Hamilton report have a motive. However, so does the United States. Our motive is to leave Iraq with the least internal damage possible and with our military, reputation and treasury stretched, but not broken.”

McQuitty believes much of the resistance to improve conditions lies within Iraq itself, and expected the international response the report received.

“I think their [foreign entities] negative response is to be expected,” said McQuitty. “As I agree with George Will, et al, that the ‘problem with Iraq is the Iraqis.’”

Learn more

The full Iraq Study Group report may be downloaded in PDF format at: www.usip.org/isg/.

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