Iraq Study Group: Simpson – Perry Conference Call
I am participating in a conference call with two Iraq Study Group principals, former Senator Alan Simpson (R, WY) and Clinton SECDEF William “Not the Refrigerator” Perry. What follows is a (live) summation, not a transcription unless in direct quotes.
OPENING REMARKS: A very, very quick summary of the recommendations by Perry followed by some trademark cornpone remarks by Simpson about how the group liked one another and worked hard on a not pleasant task.
Q. Steve Clemons: Calling from Dubai, passes on their concern about “fall of several governments in region” if U.S leaves precipitously.
A. Perry: Ground forces almost completely absorbed now and not available for other contingencies. Perception alone could lead to problems. Must get back to full capability. Further, ISG recommends leaving several brigades beyond 2008; not abandoning region by any means.
A. Simpson: Reiterates that “crack outfits” will remain for “I don’t know how long, maybe a long time.” Not reserves or Guard but “cream of the crop” — SEALS, SF, Rangers — “tough guys.”
Q. Judd Legum: What would constitute “Subject to unexpected developments”?
A. Perry: We’re just making explicit what’s normally implicit. Plans have to be adjusted based on realities that can’t be anticipated.
A. Simpson: Did we say “unexpected”? Say hello to John Podesta for me.
Q. Jim Geraghty: What’s worst case scenario? What if Maliki and company can’t get it done and we follow through on threat to get out of Dodge?
A. Simpson: Something about green peas. We don’t deal in hypotheticals. We hope they care about their country and do what it takes to avoid chaos. It’s in everyone’s interest to avoid anarchy. It’s like any other human relationship, the “ice treatment” doesn’t work. The Iraqi Army is beginning to take hold as a legitimate national army.
A. Perry: These are goals the Iraqis have set for themselves. It is possible that in spite of our best efforts, the country descends into civil war and chaos. If that happens, the best thing we can do is get out of there.
Q. Spencer Ackerman: Talked really fast. Something about danger of making training too technical.
A. Perry: Training has to take place in context of reconciliation and political-cultural change.
Q: John Aravosis: How much is the report constrained by what is politically acceptable by the White House, rather than what they really thought best?
A. Simpson: A good question. Notes that Aravosis worked for Teddy Kennedy and Chuck Robb, who are good guys. Nobody ever said “water it down” even though they noted many times “wait till Cheney sees this one” and the like. And if we hadn’t talked to the White House all along, it would never have gotten the serious reception it’s now getting from the administration.
A. Perry: I’m not a great fan of President Bush but was happy that Jim Baker went to talk to him. “Complete certainty” that there was no effort made to tailor to White House.
Q: Aravosis: Will this really make any difference? Haven’t we already lost? Isn’t Iraq Terri Schiavo at this point?
A. Simpson: They haven’t pulled the respirator out yet or administered last rites. They haven’t given up over there yet. Some of the milestones that they set for themselves are unrealistic. Still, status quo is unacceptable so we have to do something immediately. It’s beyond urgent. We’ve got to quit picking old scabs like WMD and get on with trying to fix this.
A. Perry: “I think we’ve got a shot at it.” It all depends on getting the Iraqi Army squared away and the government following through on reconciliation. No guarantees or high probabilities, but a shot.
A. Simpson. That’s pretty good. I like that.
Q. Richard Fernandez: Is amnesty for those who killed American soldiers being contemplated as part of Recommendation 37?
A. Simpson: Were you at Harvard when I was there? What was your question again? I played around with the word “amnesty” a lot years ago on the immigration issue and know it’s a politically charged word.
A. Perry: The analogy is how the Irish Republic Army was dealt with.
Note: Simpson comes across as a bit buffoonish on paper but that’s just a matter of style. He’s a bright, thoughtful fellow and, while he’s to the left of me ideologically, he was always one of my favorites. His opening remarks about decent folks working together and trying to do the right thing, partisanship and political considerations be damned, is the way he always came across during his time in public service. It’s an admirable quality.