Conetta continues discussion of ‘Necessary Steps’ report

Contribution from Carl Conetta of the Project for Defense
Alternatives to the discussion on the ‘Necessary Steps’ report on how to
withdraw from Iraq,

sent June 28, 2008 in response to the comments
made on the report
by Helena Cobban, June 25

Published here by
permission of Carl Conetta and under JWN’s usual Creative Commons
license (main principles: always give attribution; don’t use for
profit-making endeavors without negotiating specific permission.)

On Saturday Carl Conetta, who
was a member of the “experts’ group” for the recent “Necessary Steps”
report, sent me this thoughtful response to
my JWN comments of June 25.
of what he wrote
he  keyed directly to the rows in the table in that
post.  So as soon as I have time, I shall make a  new
column for the table and insert his comments into it.  It’s a
good discussion. ~HC

Here’s what Carl wrote:

I found
your review of the report thoughtful and
helpful. Probably the most thorough and thoughtful review that the
report will
receive. So thank you. Important additions and amplifications as


some of the points of difference you
mention, my comments:

Handoff to UN. I tend toward your view, but
there were differences among participants about UN capacities, Iraqi
of UN authority, and whether leaning heavily on the UN would really
congressional concerns about post-withdrawal stability. Personally, I
think the
first two of these concerns are resolvable. But whatever the nature of
the UN
mandate after US withdrawal, it would have to be sell-able to an Iraqi
that is pretty sick of occupation by foreigners.

Arab-Israeli conflict. I agree that much of
the instability that troubles the Muslim world gains impetus from this
But I don’t think resolution of it is essential in order to
reduce the risks of
post-withdrawal bloodshed and chaos in and around Iraq. And the latter
was the aim of the report.  Baker-Hamilton linked the two
theaters with a
bigger vision and agenda in mind. If, indeed, reducing the risks I
mention are
contingent on progress in the A-I conflict, then we’ll be in
Iraq a long time.
Conversely, some of the international mechanisms that would be
established as
part of the Task Force agenda might contribute indirectly to progress
in the A-I
conflict (mostly by building cooperation with Syria and
Iran).  Of course,
progress in A-I disputes would be helpful to stability in
Iraq.  And the
issue, IMHO, is as important.

Elections and constitution. I think the
balance of opinion on the TF was that this would follow on the new
reconciliation” process and/or be a necessary part of it. There was
concern, I think, that specifying too many requirements here would
withdrawal or undercut withdrawal sentiment. Also, some debate and
tension about
what constitutes ongoing meddling. So we had to balance different
Anyway, I agree that Iraq’s long-term stability requires a
rewrite. I think that the present election system is also flawed.
Moreover, this
needs to be overseen by the United Nations.

You’re right that not enough was said about
repatriation and assistance to IDPs. But I don’t think anyone
intended to
exclude or impede these options. The point was that
repatriation will be a
long task and perhaps not preferred by the displaced Iraqis. The
concern here was not to subtly compel repatriation when many may just
want to
get the hell out and stay out for a while. Still, most will want to
return, if
not right away then soon or eventually. I think we all support that
And the report should have said more about how we could facilitate



You’re right that sequencing is ambiguous,
reflecting the fact that you’d probably get different answers
from different TF
members and advisors. My own opinion (and of some others, I think) is
that the
Iraqi government needs to know where we’re headed (ie. out)
very soon and that
key players (especially UN) need to know and be brought into the
process quickly
(ie. before “official” announcement of withdrawal). Publicly, something
what you suggest would seem to occur (perhaps a few months into the
behind-the-scenes process): public withdrawal announcement, request to
UN, quick
convening of various support elements. Realistically, though, the USA
would have
to commit considerable political capital and resources to grease the
beforehand. My opinion: All the players would need to be prepared to
forward very fast once withdrawal is officially announced. Anything
less would
invite instability.

Functions of the “International Support
Group” are outlined on Page 12. Besides the functions outlined there,
it could
offer a “pool of capabilities” to provide and coordinate various types
material support to Iraq under UN supervision. What types of support?
TF members
and advisors differed on this. Certainly humanitarian, reconstruction,
development. I would add a “Security Support” component that, beyond
helmets, would assist in the further development of Iraqi Security

* I
agree that part of the UN mission would be
supporting the renovation of Iraqi governance structures and would
election oversight. TF members and advisors differed on this. As for
specific type of democratic structure. The group didn’t
broach this, either. Too
interventionary, for some. Of course, as you point out, this (and the
constitution) is essential to Iraq’s long-term stability. [
Personally, I favor
tying assembly seats to sub-provincial administrative units according
to some
population-related rule and then filling those seats according to
representation. This should result de facto in a flexible
outcome. ]

It is important to note a
persistent tension in the TF and advisor group between three objectives
developing initiatives to “reduce the risks of post-withdrawal chaos
bloodshed”, (2) achieving relatively rapid withdrawal, and (3) letting
completely assume the reigns of government as quickly as possible. How
balance these? TF members and advisors differed.


* On
stemming the flow of arms. As you note:
once we leave, other powers may try to continue or to ramp-up flows of
arms and
assistance to various groups. Indeed, there could be a surge in
anticipation of
our leaving. I agree, responsibility to stop it falls to the UN after
we leave.
But we need to develop better multi-national mechanisms before and
transition. The transition needs to be seamless, not punctuated by a
gap. My own
view is that this is solved principally by political means via the
Support Group, which must include all of Iraq’s neighbors.
But there’s a role
for technical means, too, as well as better and joint border control.


Well, as I said above, I disagree on the
necessity of linkage between resolving the A-I dispute and the goals of
withdrawing from Iraq while reducing risks of post-withdrawal chaos. If
wrong about this, then we’re stuck in Iraq for a very long
time. Don’t get me
wrong, I think resolving the A-I dispute is as important to regional
as Iraq withdrawal – or even more so. I just don’t
see them linked in the way
you and Baker-Hamilton do.

* On
US vs UN as driver of international
efforts. I agree it should be UN in the lead ASAP. I would have liked
to see the
report put more emphasis on the UN generally. But TF members and
advisors differ
on this. At any rate: practically speaking, the US must put tremendous
behind this for it to really work. And that means, initially, being
ahead of the
UN, getting people into the process and underwriting the process.
Another reason
this section of the report put emphasis on specifying the things the US
must do
and push was to convey to congress that just dumping the mess in the
UN’s lap
was not sufficient.


* It
may be the case that in 10 or 12 or 15
months Iraq will not require any outside security forces. I think it
Either way, the report makes such arrangements provisional. Still, the
international community must be ready for it.

* I
don’t think US forces should be a part of
this – except perhaps in small numbers providing service
support. Some provision
for US rapid reaction support (delivered from outside Iraq) might be
good as
well (and will exist, at any rate).

E. I already mentioned some things about
the repatriation issues. Regarding “third countries”: this does include
United States.

F. In this context, “America must lead” was
meant to imply “first to pony up” and “most generous”, not that we
should grab
and hold onto leadership.  I do agree, though, that how we
express and seek
leadership is an issue worth watching.  I wrote on this a
while back: 

indicative of the “hegemonic
presumption” is our fixation on “American global leadership”
– as a
pre-eminent and necessary end. We’re obessed with extoling,
justifying, and defending it. That we intend to lead in every dimension
often to overshadow what we intend to do.  AND ALSO:

United States should seek to win leadership, rather than simply
claim or assert it. American efforts at engagement will be most
productive if we build consensus through dialogue, not inducement. We
aim to convene, facilitate, and provision cooperative action. This
“leading” from within the team as a co-equal