Retired Gen. James Jones is testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee today on the slow and uneven progress in standing up Iraqi security forces. But even as he began his testimony this morning, Jones went out of his way to say that progress in Iraq's security situation, such as it is, isn't the measure that Congress ought to be taking as it considers the way forward in Iraq. The key to success in Iraq is political reconciliation among Iraqis -- and probably a reduced "footprint" from the United States.
"The most positive event that can occur in the near term to influence progress in Iraq is a government-led political reconciliation that leads to an end or dramatic reduction in sectarian violence," Jones told senators this morning.
Although the Jones commission focused on the Iraqi security forces, it says in its report that its members' immersion in the "dynamics of this complex engagement" compel it to make a broader recommendation: The United States should shift its mission in Iraq and "decrease" its military "footprint" there.
"The circumstances of the moment may continue to present the opportunity for considering a shift in the disposition and employment of our forces," the report says. "This could be characterized as a transition to a 'strategic overwatch' posture. Such a strategy would include placing increasing responsibilities for the internal security of the nation on the ISF, especially in the urban areas. Coalition forces could be re-tasked to better ensure the territorial defense of the state by increasingly concentrating on the eastern and western borders and the active defense of the critical infrastructures essential to Iraq."
By staying the course -- by keeping a huge U.S. military presence in Iraq -- the commission says the United States is conveying to Iraqis an "unintended message" of "permanence," of an "occupying force," when "what is needed is the opposite, one that is lighter, less massive, and more expeditionary. The decision to occupy Saddam Hussein's former palace complex with our military headquarters, while expedient in 2003, has most likely given the wrong impression to the Iraqi population. We recommend that careful consideration of the size of our national footprint in Iraq be reconsidered with regard to its efficiency, necessity, and its cost. Significant reductions, consolidations, and realignments would appear to be possible and prudent."
If this all sounds familiar, that's because it is. These recommendations from the Jones commission sound a lot like the recommendations from the Baker-Hamilton commission -- which is to say, the last major independent assessment the White House ignored along the way to the "surge."