"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," declares the Iraq Study Group in the lead sentence of its long-awaited report.
It continues on in this grim vein:
"A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian disaster. … There is no guarantee for success in Iraq. The situation in Baghdad and several provinces is dire. … Pessimism is pervasive. … Violence is increasing in scope, complexity and lethality."
This is the portrait of a nation descending into hell.
Yet the brutal honesty of the Baker-Hamilton commission about the situation in Iraq is accompanied by recommendations that are almost utopian in their unreality.
For, after painting its grim portrait, the commission says that if we faithfully follow its recommendations, "terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America’s credibility, interests and values will be protected."
What is its principal recommendation? That the United States begin to pull all its forces out of combat and out of Iraq by early 2008, and turn the war over to the Iraqi army and police.
But if 150,000 U.S. Marines and Army troops have failed in four years to defeat al-Qaida, the Sunni insurgency, the Mahdi Army, the sectarian militias and the criminal elements of Iraq, how is the Iraqi army going to succeed?
Are we to believe that rag-tag army is going to win a war the finest army on earth has all but lost?
Is this what they call "realism"?
The report itself describes the Iraqi army, after years of U.S. training, as having made "fitful progress toward becoming a reliable and disciplined fighting force loyal to the national government."
"Units lack leadership. … Units lack equipment. … Units lack personnel. … Units lack logistics and support."
Is this the force U.S. advisers are going to convert in a year into an army of salvation?
Well, not entirely. They will be assisted by the Iraqi police, of whom the report writes: "The state of the Iraqi police is substantially worse than that of the Iraqi army. …
"Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians. The police are organized under the Ministry of the Interior, which is confronted by corruption and militia infiltration and lacks control over police in the provinces."
These are the folks who are going to win the war we could not win, after we depart? Is this not an insult to common sense?
And if the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fails to "make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance," declares the commission, "the United States should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government."
But if we pull the rug out from under Maliki, and his regime and army collapse, who moves into the vacuum? Would it not likely be Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army of 60,000 fighters, a force far superior to the Mahdi units that U.S forces eviscerated in Najaf?
If America pulls its combat brigades out of Iraq, who will protect the U.S. support troops, civilian contractors, aid workers and diplomats in the Green Zone? Would we not be risking an American Dien Bien Phu?
And what is to prevent disloyal Iraqi army units and sectarian allies from fragging U.S. advisers embedded to train them, after U.S. fighting brigades have gone home?
Throughout the report there appear inherent contradictions.
The situation is "grave and deteriorating" but will get better if we pull our finest fighting forces out. Iraq is "vital to regional and even global stability, and is critical to U.S. interests," but if Maliki malingers, we should pull the rug out from under him. An Iraqi army trained by Americans can win a war that Americans could not.
The Baker-Hamilton commission has told us in brutal frankness that the patient is dying, for which we are grateful. But the commission is, in its own way, as much in denial as George W. Bush. For the surgery it recommends for Iraq looks more like a mercy killing than a miracle cure.
It is a time for truth. The strategic retreat recommended by Baker-Hamilton is not going to win this war, or end it well for the United States — it is going to advance the timetable of our impending defeat.
When U.S. combat forces leave, Iraq is going to be lost to those who ran us out. Our friends there are going to endure what our abandoned friends in Vietnam and Cambodia endured. The forces of Islamic radicalism will be emboldened to take down our remaining allies in the Middle East. Our days as a superpower will be over.
For it is the definition of a superpower that once it commits itself to a war, it does not lose the war.