You could say they rounded up the usual
suspects experts — long on scholarship, long on experience, not as long on influence (to judge from the way the Iraq war has played out), in some key particulars short on insight. It was nothing if not a star-studded conference.
“Iraq, Iran, & Beyond: America Faces the Future” opened with an informal talk by Pat Lang, who offered background. “We invaded the Iraq of our dreams,” he said. In other words, “the country was not, in fact, what we thought it to be.”
Furthermore, Lang said, differences in values between Americans and Iraqis are so great and so misunderstood, on both sides, that there is no basis for believing they can be overcome in the short term and, he strongly implied, not in the long term, either.
The first panel — Patrick Clawson, Toby Craig Jones, Dafna Linzer, Lawrence Wright — addressed the subject of “The Proxy War: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.” The conclusion was unanimous (despite huge but unmentioned political differences among the panelists), which made it striking: Conditions in Iraq are so dire that nothing the U.S. can do — absolutely nothing — will end the war there.
This means (though the panel didn’t say so) all the BananaRepublican talk of a “new” strategy is pure propaganda. Ditto for the accusation that those who oppose it are defeatists. (OK, you knew that.) Wright did say this: “Reading Al Qaeda strategists is like reading a neocon think tank. They want the U.S. to do things they can’t do. For instance, take on Iran.”
Panel moderator Stephen Simon won the prize for honky weirdness when he said “genocidal killing” in Iraq was not happening because the Shiites do not have the two defining requirements 1) “heavy weaponry” and 2) “broad communal consent.” Progroms? Yes. Genocide? No. (In that case, what would he call the genocide in Rwanda? A large pogrom?)
There was much more to the conference, all of it recorded: Peter Bergen, Steve Coll and Barnett Rubin on “The Taliban Resurgence and the Future of Al-Qaeda”; Max Boot, Noah Feldman, Salameh Nematt, Paul Pillar and Lang on “The Last Best Chances? New Plans of Action”; and Steven Cook, Fawaz Gerges, Farhad Kazemi, and Craig Unger on “The Neighborhood: Dominoes Ready to Fall?”
NYU’s Center on Law and Security, which hosted the conference, plans to post video and transcripts, a spokesman says. When it does, I’ll link.
Postscript: Feb. 23 — Tomorrow it will be four weeks since the conference was held, but the center still hasn’t posted video or transcripts. The reason for the delay, I’m told, is a lack of staff and resources. But the center hasn’t given up. “I imagine we’ll have it out in a few weeks,” Nicole Bruno, the associate director of programs, says. Doubtful, methinks.