Dec 7, 2006

ISG Takes A Field Trip

Adventures in Mesopotamia with the Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton commission):

The turning point came in September, when seven of the 10 members traveled to Baghdad aboard a C-130 military transport, decked out in bulletproof vests and helmets as the plane corkscrewed to a landing to avoid enemy rockets. They then flew aboard Black Hawk helicopters to the Green Zone as other choppers fired flares to draw off any heat-seeking missiles.

The four days there made a powerful impression on the panel members, most of whom knew nothing more about Iraq than what they had seen on television and read in the newspapers. "I'll never forget the helicopters coming in at night delivering wounded to the hospital in the Green Zone," recalled member Leon E. Panetta, who was Clinton's White House chief of staff. "We've all seen 'MASH,' and yet it was happening right there."

Explosions outside the Green Zone rattled the guesthouse and trailers where they slept. "You knew somewhere either a car bomb has gone off or something has happened," Panetta said. "And then in the morning, you could sometimes see the smoke."

Only one member, former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), a retired Marine, left the Green Zone, venturing out to look at the impact of the operation intended to secure Baghdad. By the time they returned home, many of the commissioners had concluded that the war was going worse than they had realized. ...

Robb was especially interested in sending more U.S. forces, according to one participant, and the panel considered proposals to deploy 100,000 to 200,000 additional troops. Ultimately, though, the panel discovered that there might be only 20,000 available, prompting vigorous discussion that led members to conclude that a substantial surge was unworkable.

"By September, you did not hear anyone supporting the idea of victory or more troops very much," said Marina S. Ottaway, a working-group member from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There had been a lot of pretending for a while, but that ended in the fall."

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