Two Cheers, One Boo for Baker-Hamilton

A funny thing happened on the way to last week’s release-date for the report of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former House Foreign Affairs Chairman Lee Hamilton. Out-going Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo to President Bush—which was leaked to the New York Times—recommending “a major adjustment” in the administration’s war policy.

“Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough,” wrote Rumsfeld.

Seeking Stability

His suggestions were sweeping. Among a list of changes in policy that “could or should” be done, Rumsfeld included: retaining special operations forces in Iraq to target al Qaeda “while drawing down all other Coalition forces,” “withdrawing U.S. forces from vulnerable positions—cities, patrolling, etc.” and moving them elsewhere in Iraq or Kuwait as a quick reaction force “to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance,” and deploying U.S. forces along Iraq’s Syrian and Iranian borders to prevent infiltration and limit Iranian influence in the country.

Rumsfeld also suggested publicly announcing political and security benchmarks that the Iraqi government would be expected to achieve, while significantly increasing the number of U.S. trainers embedded with Iraqi forces that would then be responsible for their own country’s security.

Among “less attractive” options, Rumsfeld listed: staying on the current path, moving more troops into Baghdad “to try to control it,” dividing Iraq into separate Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states, and setting “a firm withdrawal date to leave.”

Some suspected that this memo—and its conspicuous leak—was an attempt by Rumsfeld and/or the White House to preempt the ISG report by advocating a course of action that differed from what various news leaks suggested the ISG would recommend.

Quite the opposite turned out to be true: The ISG’s report largely echoed Rumsfeld’s preferred suggestions.

Thus we have a unanimous bipartisan report signed both by Republican ISG member Ed Meese (one of Ronald Reagan’s closest advisors) and Democratic ISG member Leon Panetta (Bill Clinton’s one-time chief of staff) generally agreeing with a proposed change of Iraq policy also being promoted by purported uber-hawk Donald Rumsfeld.

This is a good thing.

The actual changes Rumsfeld and the ISG have suggested are not aimed at providing political cover for cutting and running from Iraq (an act whose dire consequences the ISG spells out in vivid terms). They are aimed at achieving what President Bush has stated as our goal in Iraq: a country that can “govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.”

To this end, the ISG has done a valuable service, and Human Events gives its report two cheers—and one boo.

We cheer the ISG’s fact-laden, easily read exposition of the situation in Iraq. This exposition makes plain that the principal conflict there is a power struggle between indigenous Shiites and Sunnis.

We likewise cheer the ISG’s focus on concrete steps that can be taken that offer at least some hope of pushing the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to work toward a political reconciliation with the Sunnis. The report clearly explains why this political reconciliation is needed to achieve stability in the country—and why any U.S. military action within Iraq will ultimately prove futile without it.

Nonetheless, we boo the ISG’s suggestion that negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or the Israelis and the Syrians, must be linked to a global diplomatic offensive aimed at establishing stability within Iraq. The grievances that Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites nurture against one another are not connected to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and Syrians, and therefore, linking U.S. efforts to achieve reconciliation among Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis to efforts to achieve a peace among Israel, the Palestinians and Syrians simply confuses the issue and is not helpful.

The ISG’s much-publicized suggestion that the U.S. ask Iran to participate in talks about Iraq should be interpreted more as an act of public diplomacy designed to embarrass and isolate Iran than a serious effort to draw that rogue regime into what would almost certainly be futile discussions. “Our limited contacts with Iran’s government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq,” says the report. “An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran’s rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation.”

The Rumsfeld memo and ISG report are part of a serious effort to forge a bipartisan, sustainable policy that can achieve our national security requirement for an Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself. The suggestions Rumsfeld and the ISG have made deserve the careful consideration President Bush has indicated he will give them.


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