Monday, December 04, 2006

Baker's Blue Ribbon Commission on Iraq

This weekend was all a buzz about the Baker commission on Iraq and the results. Results that have been leaking out at such a high rate that they should have been on CSPAN to ensure that they weren't misinterpreted by all the press gossip.

It is funny that so many of the commentators are showing irritation as to the make up of the commission. I have already stated my frustration with that. Let's start with Mark Steyn.
James Baker's "Iraq Study Group" seems to have been cast on the same basis as Liza Minnelli's last wedding. A stellar lineup: Donna Summer, Mickey Rooney, the Doobie Brothers, Gina Lollobrigida, Michael Jackson, Mia Farrow, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Jill St. John. That's Liza's wedding, not the Baker Commission. But at both gatherings everyone who was anyone was there, no matter how long ago it was they were anyone. So the fabulous Baker boy was accompanied by Clinton officials Leon Panetta and Bill Perry, Clinton golfing buddy Vernon Jordan, Clinton's fellow sex fiend Chuck Robb, the quintessential ''moderate'' Republican Alan Simpson, Supreme Court swing vote par excellence Sandra Day O'Connor . . .

God, I can't go on. I'd rather watch Mia Farrow making out with Mickey Rooney to a Doobie Brothers LP. As its piece de resistance, the Baker Commission concluded its deliberations by inviting testimony from -- drumroll, please -- Sen. John F. Kerry. If you're one of those dummies who goofs off in school, you wind up in Iraq. But, if you're sophisticated and nuanced, you wind up on a commission about Iraq. Rounding it all out -- playing David Gest to Jim Baker's Liza -- is, inevitably, co-chairman Lee Hamilton, former congressman from Indiana. As you'll recall, he also co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, in accordance with Article II Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: "Ye monopoly of wisdom on ye foreign policy, national security and other weighty affairs shall be vested in a retired Representative from the 9th District in Indiana, if he be sufficiently venerable of mien. In the event that he becomes incapacitated, his place shall be taken by Jill St. John." I would be calling for a blue-ribbon commission to look into whether we need all these blue-ribbon commissions, but they'd probably get Lee Hamilton to chair that, too.

Don't get me wrong, I like a Friars' Club Roast as much as the next guy and I'm sure Jim Baker kibitzing with John Kerry was the hottest ticket in town. But doesn't it strike you as just a tiny bit parochial? Aside from Senator Kerry, I wonder whether the commission thought to hear from anyone such as Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister of Singapore. A couple of years back, on a visit to Washington just as the Democrat-media headless-chicken quagmire-frenzy was getting into gear, he summed it up beautifully:

''The key issue is no longer WMD or even the role of the U.N. The central issue is America's credibility and will to prevail.''

That puts it kindly. Talking to Kerry strikes me as absolutely hilarious. Wonder how much of his testimony was a replay of Winter Soldier.

Ralph Peters at the NYPost had this to say:
THE problem here is the com position of the panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. Not only does it drag yesteryear's Washington insiders out of the crypt, its make-up reveals the disgraceful extent to which our governing "elite" despises those in uniform.

Why on earth wasn't a single retired military officer appointed to the the Iraq Study Group? We're at war, for Heaven's sake. Briefly interviewing a few generals is no substitute for a steadying military voice amid the committee's naifs.

Washington insiders pretend to respect our troops but continue to believe that those in uniform are second-raters and that any political hack can design better war plans than those who've dedicated their lives to military service. This is arrogance soaring through the clouds - and a disheartening replay of the shut-out-military-advice approach to warfare that got us into such a mess in Iraq.

I stated something like this in an earlier post. He started his piece with this:
THE proposal to embed more American military trainers with Iraqi units makes sense, but creates a grave danger: the pros pect of a coordinated revolt among Shias in uniform who slaughter or take hostage thousands of our dispersed troops.

The best deterrent is the back-up presence of our own Army and Marine combat formations. As long as our cavalry can ride to the rescue, the prospect of a sectarian mutiny to "teach America a lesson" and humiliate us remains low.

Now early word has it that The Fabulous Baker Boys (straight from the political boneyard and known formally as the Iraq Study Group) will recommend withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2008, while leaving behind our embedded trainers and vulnerable support units.

This is the sort of nonsense that sounds great to civilians with no military experience. To veterans, it's nuts.

I completely agree. You can't embed our troops and leave them no support force in case they get into trouble. I know that the embedding was proposed in the Rumsfeld memo, but I find it improbable that any true military man would propose hanging them out there while the troops are withdrawing otherwise. You can understand his frustration with the commission make up when you hear things like that.

Jeff Jacoby at the BoGlobe is on for massing more troops, since Rumsfeld's light troop level is an obvious failure.
This week, the Baker-led Iraq Study Group formally presents its report to President George W. Bush. Its key recommendations are reportedly that US troops in Iraq be gradually withdrawn and that the United States turn to Iran and Syria for help in reducing the violence. One study group member, speaking to The New York Times, summed up the bottom line : "We had to move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out."

The president will be urged by many to waste no time implementing the Baker group's ideas. Which is indeed what he should do -- assuming that he has come around to favoring defeat in Iraq, the death of the doctrine that bears his name, and the empowerment of the worst regimes in the world. If, however, Bush prefers success to failure and would rather live up to, not abandon, the principles he has articulated in the war against radical Islam, he should politely accept the ISG report and then do the opposite of what it recommends.

Far from drawing down the number of troops in Iraq, Bush should increase them. The Rumsfeldian "light footprint" theory -- the belief that the US military presence in Iraq must be minimized so that the Iraqis learn to maintain security and stability on their own -- has been tried for more than three years. It hasn't worked. At least in the short term, there is no prospect of restoring order and stopping the bloodshed without many more American boots on the ground.

Sending in significant reinforcements would not only make it possible to kill more of the terrorists, thugs, and assassins who are responsible for Iraq's chaos. It would help reassure Iraqis that the Washington is not planning to leave them in the lurch, as it did so ignominiously in 1991. The violence in Iraq is surging precisely because Iraqis fear that the Americans are getting ready to throw in the towel. That is why "they have turned to their own sectarian armed groups for the protection the Bush administration has failed to provide," Robert Kagan and William Kristol write in The Weekly Standard. "That, and not historical inevitability or the alleged failings of the Iraqi people, is what has brought Iraq closer to civil war."

There is a bad idea. It could be a good implementation is some very limited areas, but just flooding the area with troops doesn't solve anything. The typical insurgency in history has proven that. Any place that has saturated the country with troops has provided more targets for the insurgents while failing to make any additional progress. It's not the size of the hammer, but how you use it. The increase in troops scenario is a vaguism. It doesn't provide any detail on how to use those extra hands. The present "light footprint" allows effective action, but attempts to minimize the alienation of the population in general. Something Jacoby and his ilk fail to understand about winning in a country fighting an insurgency. You certainly can separate the combatants in the sectarian violence, but without providing some political solution, it won't last long after we leave.

Next is Jonathan Last at the Philly Inquirer. He's pushing a distorted version of the "divide Iraq" proposal.
The Baker-Hamilton report will arrive soon. There is little reason to think that the document will contain worthwhile policy advice for fixing Iraq. After all, Messrs. Baker and Hamilton are the type of "realists" who believe in brokering with adversaries such as Syria and Iran. Such "realism" is a recipe for losing friends and emboldening enemies.

But there are "realists," and then there are realists. Swarthmore's James Kurth is the latter. Writing in a recent issue of the New Republic, Kurth proposes a novel plan: Abandon the idea of a single democratic Iraq and split the country into two states, a Kurdish north and a Shiite south. Kurth's proposal - call it "Biden with teeth" - is worth considering.

Kurth understands that a simple withdrawal from Iraq, or a partitioning that rewards Sunni insurgents, would be interpreted as a sign of American weakness - Somalia, writ large. So he suggests: "Before it leaves Iraq, then, the United States must inflict a dramatic and decisive defeat upon the Sunni insurgents - one that will demonstrate the unbearable cost and utter futility of the Islamist dream... . That defeat must be more than military; it must also be political: The United States should divide Iraq into two parts, leaving the Kurds in control of the north, the Shia in control of the south - and the Sunnis stateless in between."

The border would be drawn along the ethnic contours of Iraq, with Kirkuk (and probably Mosul) as part of Kurdistan and Baghdad as part of the much larger southern Shia state. Both territories have enough oil to be economically viable. After the partition, the United States would be free to pursue separate policies with each, using different carrots and sticks as needed.

And what would become of the Sunnis? Kurth is clear-eyed in recognizing that theirs would be a grim fate. They "would have to pay for the sins of the cruel regimes that represented them in the past and the cruel insurgents whom they support today." This is a realism based not on a desire for stability and the status quo, but on an understanding of power and the opportunities inherent in instability.

Right, separating the country in two along ethnic lines will ensure the Kurds are safe, but will leave the sectarian disintegration to continue. At least the three way split originally proposed would have attempted to separate all parties. Leaving the Sunnis to their fate is really a pathetic proposal. It also leaves a really bad impression to the Sunni radical Islamists. The US is really out there to destroy Islam. But, no worries there, they were the primary sect involved with the attacks on the US and their international assets.

The discussion there continues with the likely failure of democracy in the southern state while Kurdistan would likely become a stable democracy. No kidding. The only merit of the proposal is that it would be a partial win for the US in having a secure Kurdish nation who is friendly to the US.

And what about the idea that the Baker commission will propose the US sit down and talk with Iran and Syria? Niall Ferguson, in his piece on the new demagogues has an opinion.
The classic breeding grounds for demagogy are war and revolution. It is no coincidence that Ahmadinejad is a veteran of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the war between Iran and Iraq. In a new mood of "realism," the United States would now like Iran to help prevent its neighbor Iraq from collapsing into civil war. Fat chance. Ahmadinejad is bidding for Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. The last thing he needs is to be seen bailing out the Great Satan.
Well, I'm glad I have finally found someone stating what I have since this proposal crawled out from under its rock.

Iraq is going to require a very complicated solution. Rumsfeld's memo clearly had multiple proposals that could be effectively utilized and all would assist in stabilization. Many of them have been used historically for successful conclusions to insurgencies. Unfortunately, the one thing that really will be needed is time, and I find it highly unlikely that the US public has the spinal fortitude to allow it the time to succeed.

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