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December 07, 2006

Baker and Hamilton Hoping for a Miracle
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

While I cannot muster a full analysis of the Iraq Study Group Report, below are some off the cuff reactions.  I will generally leave out the many points I agree with, other than to comment that I was pleasantly surprised by the Report's realistic and hard-headed take, having expected more sugar-coating to placate Bush.  There's also something almost touchingly idealistic and optimistic about the Report, which lays out a lot of really difficult-to-accomplish and probably far-fetched goals in plain terms that makes them sound achievable. 

The New Diplomatic Offensive

In arguing for a "diplomatic offensive" (personally I would leave out the offensive part), the Report's claim is that Iran and Syria have an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq.  But is this motivation more powerful than their incentive in seeing the US continue to stew alone in its juices in Iraq when our Iraqi preoccupation, as the Report acknowledges, stands in the way of our aggressively confronting, for example, Iran's nuclear program?  The Report suggests that Iran will look bad if it stands aloof from a regional process, but they'll undoubtedly couch the refusal to play so that it sounds like we refused to engage them on their own terms.

As for other regional neighbors, like Saudi Arabia, who are more favorably disposed toward the US, I am skeptical that they'll be willing to assume the risks associated with aggressive border patrols, providing military assistance, and the other kinds of support suggested in recommendation #2.  It would be great if it happened, but I don't think we have the leverage to force it, and I don't see these countries coming to our aid voluntarily right now. 

I have the same fear re the UNSC P5 and countries like Germany and Japan.  The threat posed to them by a failed state in Iraq is pretty remote, and the Bush Administration has yet to eat the kind of humble pie that would be required to induce them to lend a serious hand.  They won't refuse to participate, but once at the table getting concrete commitments will be slow and difficult.  Knowing that this will be a very tough sell in capitals, will Bush be willing to attempt it at the risk of failure?  Unclear.

The Report also argues, on p 44, that the morass of Middle East issues - Iran, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon etc. are inextricably linked and must all be addressed in the context of a regional diplomatic initiative to enlist help on Iraq.  But while I agree completely that the US should play - and has in recent years wrongly abdicated - a leadership role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians and Arabs, the case for the near-term linkage between such efforts and a resolution in Iraq is not made clear. 

Prospects that a lame duck, widely discredited Bush Administration can successfully broker an Israel-Palestine settlement in this environment (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, etc.) are at best remote.  The Report suggests that nonetheless the credit the US will get for trying will have a material positive impact on Iraq's neighbor's willingness to cooperate with us.  I doubt it, and frankly wonder whether the Administration has the leverage, bandwidth or energy to mount a MEPP effort right now (particularly given the parallel need for renewed efforts in Afghanistan).  They made several half-hearted such attempts in the early days of their first term only to retreat once progress proved difficult, and my fear is a renewed push would similarly sputter out.

Moving on to recommendations 20 onward which deal with, in layman's terms, the Iraqi government's (in)ability to get its act together, the Report resorts to the suggestion that its simply a matter of the Iraqi government's willingness to pull itself up by its bootstraps.  But the introductory section of the Report details al-Maliki's dependence on Sadr and other factors that make it clear that he can't push through things like a reverse de-Baathification law without risking his life, his government or both.

Likewise on oil revenue, the Report calls for a population-based formula for sharing the wealth, despite an earlier conclusion that some essential predicates for such a system - such as a reliable census - don't exist in Iraq and won't for some time.

In the section on military operations (recommendation 40 onward) its unclear what exactly the incentive is for the Iraqi government to get its act together, since we're pledging to leave if they do or if they don't.  Personally I don't believe that the obstacle to greater Iraqi control over conditions on the ground is lack of incentive, but the Study Group seems to think that is a factor, so their proposal to leave in either scenario is confusing.  The idea may be that the prospect of continuing economic aid helps drive the Iraqi government to forge reconciliation to an extent not yet seen.

One under-addressed point in this section is the raging popular mistrust of Iraqi security forces and perceptions of sectarianism.  This won't be resolved with larger numbers or more training.  The introduction to the Report addresses this, referencing the infiltration of the Iraqi police by the Badr Brigade.  Yet the recommendations section leaves out how to address it.

Overall, there seems to be a disconnect between the time it will take to continue to get the Iraqi military up to speed given the shortcomings the Report sites, and the Q1 2008 departure date set out for all US combat troops.  The reality seems to be the our departure will leave a gaping, essentially unfillable in the medium-term security gap.  This may not be a reason to stay, but it needs to be faced.


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While I agree with your trenchant criticisms, nevertheless, I wonder if a "responsible" Democratic position wouldn't be to urge its adoption, as a last, best chance to salvage the situation (our national interest in a non-falling-apart Middle East IS involved). Then, and only then, when it is disregarded/fails could the supertanker of the public opinion of the electorate be ready for actual pullout proposals. At that point, it would be correct to say that we tried a sane proposal, divorced from neo-con dreams, but the situation was already irretrievable.

...I wonder if a "responsible" Democratic position wouldn't be to urge its adoption, as a last, best chance to salvage the situation.... Then, and only then, when it is disregarded/fails could the supertanker of the public opinion of the electorate be ready for actual pullout proposals.

Public opinion already supports a withdrawal.

It's the supertanker of elite opinion that needs to turn around, and it's not clear the ship has a rudder, We've had half a dozen "the next 6 months are crucial" pronouncements by generals and pundits, but when the 6 months are up they simply re-boot and say it again.

The next 12 months will be decisive; the next three months are crucial to turning around the security situation, which is volatile in key parts of the country.

Pentagon commissioned Hamre report, July 7, 2003


Cal, I think maybe the Hamre report you quote was correct. The next three months were crucial, and the next year was decisive.

Since then we've been hoping to somehow turn it around.

I don't believe in miracles. This gets me into trouble with true believers, but when you're pushing seventy you get a little cynical. Trust me.

Let's look at the report from Saudi-agent Baker and under-achiever Hamilton.

"The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region."

Comment: Won't happen. The neocon agenda eschews diplomacy in favor of military aggression. Why? It's great for corporate profit, skies the stock market, allows increased domestic repression, takes domestic attention off the increasing poverty of Americans and burns up tons of money which then can't be used productively.

"The primary mission of US forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations.

Comment: General Casey predicted in October 2004 that over half of Iraq would be under "local control" by January 2005 and Rumsfeld has been touting the New Iraq Army for a couple of years. Haven't happened, won't happen. No independent reporter describing the Iraq Army has anything good to say. Bottom line: "Combat operations" aren't productive against nationalist insurgents, what we in 1775 called "patriots." And these Sunni patriots are being supported by Baker's (and Bush's) friends the Saudis, who have very deep pockets.

"There must be a renewed and sustained commitment ... to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

Comment: We could have solved the Palestinian problem years ago if we had wanted to, but we're (particularly the Dems) beholden to the Zionists so it won't happen. What is happening, with US complicity, is the genocide of the Palestinians. (Liberals are busy spouting off about Darfur and don't care.)

"If the Iraq government demonstrates political will and makes substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should make clear its willingness to continue training, assistance, and support for Iraq's security forces and to continue political, military, and economic support. If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of [those] milestones ..., the United States should reduce its ... support for the Iraqi government."

Comment: If the US leaves then civil violence will increase, but if the Iraq government doesn't decrease civil violence then we will leave. Makes no sense to me. The ISG report is DOA.

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