Iraq Study Group report released; Update: "Rough waters" video added!

It’s available for download here. The press conference has just started — and is being carried live by all three networks. An anxious media wonders: will Baker be able to encapsulate the pessimism of the report in one killer pithy soundbite? [Update: Bingo. See below.] If he does, you know who’ll have the video.

Updates coming.

Update: And just as I type that, Lee Hamilton declares, “Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward.” Jackpot.

Update: It sounds like the leaks were accurate. They want a significant number of troops withdrawn soon — ideally within 16 months — and the rest redeployed to advise and support the Iraqi army. (Minor surprise: first they want a minor increase.) And of course they want us to talk to Iran and Syria, an initiative which most Americans (including most Republicans) support. Says Moran: “You will excuse me if I believe that talking to Syria while it is in the process of gobbling up its tiny Lebanese neighbor to be one of the most cynical, immoral, and ill-considered diplomatic ideas in a generation – which of course is right up Baker’s alley.” Presumably the outreach could start as early as next week, right after Iran gets done denying the Holocaust.

Verdict: success is not an option.

Although the study group will present its plan as a much-needed course change in Iraq, many of its own advisers concluded during its deliberations that the war is essentially already lost, according to private correspondence obtained yesterday and interviews with participants. The best the commission could put forward would be the “least bad” of many bad options, as former ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer wrote.

An early working draft from July stated that “there is even doubt that any level of resources could achieve the administration’s stated goals, given the illiberal and undemocratic political forces, many of them Islamic fundamentalists, that will dominate large parts of the country for a long time.”…

Much debate in e-mail exchanges among the most outspoken advisers to the study group focused on whether adding troops would help. But most feared that bringing in the large numbers required would break the military, lead to a surge in U.S. deaths and do nothing to better protect civilians.

In the end, the experts did not agree on sending additional forces beyond military advisers for the Iraqi national army. They seemed certain that Bush would reject most of their recommendations and that few could work anyway.

“Very early on, the notion of achieving some sort of victory didn’t take,” said Chas W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “So if victory is not possible and not feasible, even if you could define it, then what you’re left with is to find some way to mitigate defeat.

If the Marines ever tire of “Semper Fi”…

Update: The enduring question’s going to be whether long-term success was ever an option or whether the Sunni/Shiite divide would have gobbled up the country eventually no matter what. If Bush had sent 300,000 troops three years ago, if the jihadis and militias had been choked in their cradle and the two sides had a few years of peace to acclimate themselves to, maybe they’d have a different footing going forward. Or, with a thousand years of slaughter on the books and Iran and AQ looking to stir it up, maybe not.

We are where we are, though. Which is why relying on the Iraqi military to prevent a civil war is an exceedingly naive idea:

[O]thers say that placing too much emphasis on training the mainly Shi’ite national army, which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said last week would be ready to take control of national security next June, ignores the fact that the country is in the midst of a deepening conflict that pits Shi’ites against Sunnis.

We can train Iraqis to be better soldiers but it is not proven we can train them to be better Iraqis. They will still be loyal to communities and tribes rather than central government,” said Loren Thompson, defence analyst at the Lexington Institute.

“There is too much unjustified optimism that Iraqi forces are tractable and trainable. To date there is little evidence.”…

“If our goal is to prevent the spread of civil war, then we are not going to be pulling troops out, because the moment we do, the war will grow so ferocious we will stop deploying.

“If our goal is to get out, then we are going to have to accept an even higher level of civil strife. If Americans leave Iraq, it will not be peaceful by anybody’s definition.”

In the end, the Commission’s using the same strategy McCain is (allegedly), albeit in the opposite direction: he claims more troops will help, they claim fewer troops will. Bush can’t really embrace either option, though, and they know it. As things get worse, each will point to his failure to adopt their own recommendations to explain why things fell apart. Big help, but that’s his fault entirely for not having done all that he could in Iraq when the country still had the political will to do it.

Update: I leave you with this, from the executive summary. We need to solve the Israel-Palestinian issue. And we also need to engage in dialogue with Iran, which is committed to the destruction of Israel. Mazel tov.

The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria.

Update: N.Z. Bear has posted a hypertext version of the report for easy linking.

Update: Mary K’s been watching NBC and e-mails with a partial transcript. Brian Williams:

Various members of the Iraq Study Group, as you saw, helping in the answer of questions posed by reporters. The quote of the session may very well emerge to be this, from Congressman Hamilton initially, “Our ship of state has hit rough waters.”

Here’s the clip.

Update: Time says al-Sadr and Al Qaeda will love the report. Iraqi citizens? Not so much.

Update: You know I wouldn’t let you down. Soundbitemania!