The Iraq Study Group: Deserving of Scorn & Contempt
Recent days have brought a series of powerful editorials on the Iraq Study Group. This post presents 5 of them, none of which looks favorably on the Group’s report. Be sure to read McCarthy’s piece at the end.
John Podhoretz on Witless Wisdom: Baker’s Worthless Iraq Advice
Yes, it’s been quite a week for the 10 members of the Iraq Study Group, the committee formed last spring to offer recommendations on a path forward in Iraq.
They had a wonderfully invigorating leak session the other day with The New York Times, which was the first recipient of the group’s key top-level save-America recommendation. Co-chairmen James…Baker and Lee…Hamilton didn’t even bother to pretend to brief the president or key lawmakers first.
The president could wait his turn. After all, this is the Iraq Study Group we’re talking about here, buddy. Even the mighty Times was probably kept waiting for its leak, since the only person who could not be kept waiting was Annie Leibovitz, celebrity photographer nonpareil.
As Dana Milbank reports in The Washington Post, on Monday the group’s “co-chairmen, James Baker and Lee Hamilton, found time . . . to pose for an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot for Men’s Vogue.”
The value of Annie Leibovitz’s pictorial scoop might have been reduced somewhat when the president scornfully consigned the Iraq Study Group to the ash-heap of history yesterday with a single dismissive sentence during his press conference in Jordan: “This business about ‘graceful exit’ just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”
Baker, Hamilton and their crew of old Washington hands…are recommending a “gradual pullback” of American troops but without a timetable. That basically translates into a nice, long, slow defeat…
As one of the study group’s members told the Times yesterday, “We had to move the national debate from ‘whether to stay the course’ to ‘how do we start down the path out’.”
This is the consensus view of the Iraq Study Group, which is very proud that it reached consensus.
Its members also reached a consensus view that Depends is a really fine brand of adult diaper, and that they love reruns of “Murder, She Wrote.”
You perhaps note that I am writing with extreme disrespect toward the Iraq Study Group. That’s because its report is a scandal and an embarrassment; it’s flatly immoral to seek to make or guide policy in this fashion.
Look, if its members believe the war is lost, they should say so. They should bite the bullet and advocate a pullout of American forces sooner rather than later.
If its members could not actually achieve consensus on that point…then it was simple vanity on the part of the Gang of 10 that led to the creation of a “consensus” document that split the difference.
There’s no way to split the difference, unless you’re hurrying off to have your mug immortalized by Annie Leibovitz and want to bang down the gavel so you can get plenty of time to get hair and makeup done.
America and its allies are either going to win this war or we’re going to lose. We will either conclude our military actions in Iraq with terrorists and insurgents dead or fled and an imposition of civil order in the country by its elected government, or we will turn tail and leave the place in chaos and ruins.
What’s even more appalling, if true, is the group’s other key recommendation – which is that America should try to find answers to its problems through an international conference that would include Syria and Iran.
What do Syria and Iran want more than anything else in the world? To see an American defeat in Iraq. To see an America so crippled that they can work their will in the Middle East without fear of retribution…
…that’s Baker for you. Give him a problem and he’ll tell you your best hope of solving it can be found in sucking up to an Arab dictator…
…there’s not much that even James Baker can demand of Israel that Israel’s not already willing to give. Except maybe Jerusalem. Yeah: Israel can give up Jerusalem, and in exchange, Iran and Syria will leave Iraq alone.
Please stop laughing at the doddering old fools now. It’s disrespectful.
This is an extremely dire situation. Half-measures will be disastrous, whatever form they take – and that’s not true only of the Baker-Hamilton “graceful exit” disaster. Continuing as we’re going would also constitute a half-measure with disastrous results as well.
The president treated the Baker half-measures with the contempt they deserved. But he will deserve precisely the same level of contempt if he doesn’t champion a plan for victory immediately.
Robert Kagan & William Kristol on A Perfect Failure: The Iraq Study Group has reached a consensus
…The “wise men” who counseled Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam and the members of the Kissinger Commission who tried to reshape Ronald Reagan’s Central American policies did not sit for Annie Leibovitz in the middle of their endeavors. Nor did they hire a mega-public relations firm to sell their recommendations (supposedly intended for the president) to the public at large, as Baker and Hamilton have done.
But we think the chairmen’s self-promotion and big-time product marketing are perfectly understandable. They have to do something to distract attention from two unpleasant facts.
The first is that after nine months of deliberation and an unprecedented build-up of expectations that these sages would produce some brilliant, original answer to the Iraq conundrum, the study group’s recommendations turn out to be a pallid and muddled reiteration of what most Democrats, many Republicans, and even Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officials have been saying for almost two years. Thus, according to at least six separate commission sources sent out to pre-spin the press, the Baker-Hamilton report will call for a gradual and partial withdrawal of American forces in Iraq, to begin at a time unspecified and to be completed by a time unspecified. The goal will be to hand over responsibility for security in Iraq to the Iraqis themselves as soon as this is feasible, and to shift the American role to training rather than fighting the insurgency and providing security. The decision of how far, how fast, and even whether to withdraw will rest with military commanders in Iraq, who will base their determination on how well prepared the Iraqis are to take over. Even after the withdrawal, the study group envisions keeping at least 70,000 American troops in Iraq for years to come.
To say that this is not a new idea is an understatement. Donald Rumsfeld and top military officials have from the beginning of the occupation three years ago aimed to do precisely what the Baker-Hamilton group now recommends…
…As Democratic senator Jack Reed noted, the group’s recommendations repeat “what some of us have been saying for a while.”…Despite efforts to make it appear otherwise, then, the real recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group is “stay the course.” For this we waited nine months?
One of the more striking aspects of the Iraq Study Group’s report is that these recommendations are clearly not anyone’s idea of the right plan…One commission source declared, “We reached a consensus, which in itself is remarkable.” “Everyone felt good about where we ended up,” said another. We’re happy for them. But reaching consensus among the 10 members of the group was presumably not the primary goal of this exercise. The idea was to provide usable advice for the Bush administration that would help it move toward an acceptable outcome in Iraq. In that, the commission has failed.
There is another problem for Baker, of course, which justifies the money the commission is spending to hire the Edelman public relations firm. It is that the Baker commission report is, as the press likes to say, dead on arrival…
As for Baker’s other significant and more original recommendation–that the United States hold direct talks with Iran and Syria to get their help in Iraq–Bush nixed that idea, too. In Estonia last Tuesday, the president said, “Iran knows how to get to the table with us, and that is to do that which they said they would do, which is verifiably suspend their [uranium] enrichment programs.” This the Iranians have steadfastly refused to do, of course. As for Syria, Bush continues to accuse Syria, rightly, of trying to retake control of Lebanon by means of assassination and support of terrorist violence. He gave no indication that he was willing to begin direct talks with Syria on Iraq.
It’s not as if the Baker commission has accomplished nothing, however. Although its recommendations will have no effect on American policy going forward, they have already had a very damaging effect throughout the world, and especially in the Middle East and in Iraq. For the Iraq Study Group, aided by supportive American media, has successfully conveyed the impression to everyone at home and abroad that the United States is about to withdraw from Iraq. This has weakened American allies and strengthened American enemies. It has exacerbated the problems in Iraq, as all the various factions in that country begin to prepare for the “inevitable” American retreat. Now it will require enormous efforts by the president and his advisers to dispel the disastrous impression that the Baker commission has quite deliberately created and will continue to foster in the weeks ahead. At home and abroad, people have been led to believe that Jim Baker and not the president was going to call the shots in Iraq from now on…
Yet there is one “power broker” that still matters: the American public. Unfortunately, and dangerously, the president appears to have largely lost their confidence. Certainly, the election results were a strong signal that Americans are unhappy with the war in Iraq. At the same time, we were struck by exit polls that showed the public was equally concerned with a too precipitous pullout from Iraq, suggesting the American people know quite well what is at stake in the war there. Many Americans, it would seem, are still open to a plan for Iraq that has a chance of working–if the president acts soon. If not, no matter how strong a position he has constitutionally, he will not be able to sustain his Iraq policy…
The Editors of National Review on One for the Wastebaskets
The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) is turning into a parody of bipartisan commissions. Such commissions are often driven by their own internal dynamics rather than by any connection to the real world. So it is that the ISG has apparently blended a Republican option to keep fighting in Iraq with a Democratic option to adopt a timetable for withdrawal by next year, and come up with a recommendation of withdrawing American combat troops (perhaps to their Iraqi bases) on a non-specified timetable. If this is so, any costs of distributing the report should be saved by printing it and then immediately depositing it in the nearest wastebaskets.
It shouldn’t be surprising that five Republicans and five Democrats sitting around a table can’t come up with any ready solutions to Iraq. First, there are genuine, deep divides between the two parties that can’t be bridged by a few elder statesmen, no matter how exalted or well-meaning. Second, there are no ready solutions, at least not in the sense of magic bullets that wouldn’t already have occurred to people much more expert in military strategy and Middle Eastern affairs….
This is just a dressed-up surrender in Iraq. As soon as the U.S. began such a redeployment, the security situation would worsen and the political environment would further deteriorate…
The U.S. needs to fight more in Iraq, not give up. That means sending more troops to Baghdad. Yes, we should be training more Iraqi units and embedding more American troops with those units, but there is no substitute in the near term for more U.S. troops on the ground. Only we can stabilize Baghdad, and only a better security situation there can provide the conditions necessary for the kind of political progress that might turn the war around.
The apparently risible recommendation of the ISG has a silver lining, however. It will make it easier for President Bush to politely dismiss its findings, and — we hope — do what’s necessary to try to save Iraq.
Thomas Joscelyn of the Claremont Institute on The New Know-Nothings
There is much talk these days about the possibility of the U.S. entering negotiations with Iran and Syria. The thinking goes that both regimes could be enticed into stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq as part of some “grand bargain.” Foreign policy gurus ranging from those sitting on the much-heralded Baker-Hamilton Commission to Henry Kissinger to the incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have argued for this course. Unfortunately, their advice is grounded in a dangerous ignorance of our terrorist enemies…
…In no way do Tehran’s interests and American interests in Iraq, or anywhere else in the world, “converge.” Below I have included two pointed examples of just how far off base this thinking is. The prospect for negotiations is not very high since our foreign policy establishment simply does not have a very good understanding of those they seek to negotiate with in the first place.
Myth #1: Iran and America both want “stability” in Iraq, therefore we have common interests.
The desire for negotiations with Iran (and Iran’s terrorist ally, Syria) is driven by a false premise. America’s foreign policy elites have concluded that since an unstable Iraq may have ripple effects throughout the region, then Iran wants to quell the violence in favor of long-term stability. The chaos plaguing post-Saddam Iraq is not good for either Tehran or America, the thinking goes, so we should be able to reach common ground in this regard.
This makes no sense for a variety of reasons.
First, Iran certainly wants long-term stability in Iraq, but only as long as the Iraqi Shiites are inculcated with the same virulent anti-Americanism as that espoused by Tehran’s mullahs. That is, Tehran’s vision of a “stable” Iraq is not consistent with U.S. interests…
Thus, just because both nations have an interest in stability it does not mean that “stability” is defined in the same terms.
Second, Iran is directly fomenting short-term instability in Iraq and killing American-led forces as well as Iraqi civilians…
But Iran is not just “exploiting” the violence for its own gain; Khomeini’s heirs are openly fomenting it. It is no secret that a substantial portion of the improvised explosive devices (IED’s) killing our soldiers and Iraqi civilians are coming from Iran…
Iran is not only feeding the insurgency advanced IED technology, it is also supplying a steady stream of suicide bombers…
It is also not a secret that the Iranians are arming, funding, and training the Shiite militias that are the cause of so much havoc in the first place.
Why would anyone, therefore, assume that Iran wants “stability” in Iraq the same way America does? In fact, the more realistic view is that Iran is wagering short-term instability is enough to make American-led forces leave, thereby providing the mullahs with an opportunity to spread their influence and to create an Iraq under their sway.
Myth #2: Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda needs clarification. Corollary Myth: The Shiites of Iran could not possibly work with the Sunnis of al Qaeda because of ideological differences…
…Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists aided al Qaeda’s rise, trained bin Laden’s suicide bombers, and have assisted al Qaeda in a variety of ways. The al Qaeda operatives in Iran are not “detained” in any meaningful sense, they are simply being sheltered.
It is widely believed that Iran and al Qaeda could not possibly cooperate due to ideological differences. The historical enmity between Shiites and Sunnis, we are told, is insurmountable. Therefore, Iran—the premiere state sponsor of terrorism for decades—and al Qaeda—the vanguard organization of Islamist terrorism—could not work together against their common enemies.
This misunderstanding has no doubt influenced the current calls for negotiations with Iran…In reality, Iran and Iranian terrorist proxies, like Hezbollah, have had an ongoing relationship with the main constituencies of al Qaeda going back decades…
Here is the bottom line: the Foreign Policy Establishment that is calling for negotiations with Iran does not have a good (or any?) understanding of Iranian behavior. This is particularly troubling because Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorist enemies around the world. Is it reasonable to think that these folks could successfully carry on negotiations with the mullahs?
I wouldn’t bet on it.
Andrew McCarthy in Can We Talk? Well, we can, but we shouldn’t
This is a war of will. If we lose it, the historians will marvel at how mulishly we resisted understanding the one thing we needed to understand in order to win. The enemy.
In Iraq, we’ve tried to fight the most civilized “light footprint” war of all time. We made sure everyone knew our beef was only with Saddam Hussein, as if he were a one-man militia — no Sunni Baathists supporting him, no Arab terrorists colluding, and no Shiite jihadists hating us just on principle.
No, our war was only with the regime. No need to fight the Iraqis. They, after all, were noble. They would flock to democracy if only they had the chance. And, once they hailed us as conquering heroes, their oil wealth would pay for the whole thing … just 400 billion American dollars ago.
This may be the biggest disconnect of all time between the American people and a war government.
In the wake of 9/11, the American people did not care about democratizing the Muslim world. Or, for that matter, about the Muslim world in general. They still don’t. They want Islamic terrorists and their state sponsors crushed. As for the aftermath, they want something stable that no longer threatens our interests; they care not a wit whether Baghdad’s new government looks like Teaneck’s.
To the contrary, Bush-administration officials — notwithstanding goo-gobs of evidence that terrorists have used the freedoms of Western democracies, including our own, the better to plot mass murder — have conned themselves into believing that democracy, not decisive force, is the key to conquering this enemy.
So deeply have they gulped the Kool-Aid that, to this day, they refuse to acknowledge what is plain to see: While only a small number of the world’s billion-plus Muslims (though a far larger number than we’d like to believe) is willing to commit acts of terrorism, a substantial percentage — meaning tens of millions — supports the terrorists’ anti-West, anti-democratic agenda.
Islamic countries, moreover, are not rejecting Western democracy because they haven’t experienced it. They reject it on principle. For them, the president’s euphonious rhetoric about democratic empowerment is offensive. They believe, sincerely, that authority to rule comes not from the people but from Allah; that there is no separation of religion and politics; that free people do not have authority to legislate contrary to Islamic law; that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, and men to women; and that violent jihad is a duty whenever Muslims deem themselves under attack … no matter how speciously.
These people are not morons. They adhere to a highly developed belief system that is centuries old, wildly successful, and for which many are willing to die. They haven’t refused to democratize because the Federalist Papers are not yet out in Arabic. They decline because their leaders have freely chosen to decline. They see us as the mortal enemy of the life they believe Allah commands. Their demurral is wrong, but it is principled, not ignorant. And we insult them by suggesting otherwise.
Democratizing such cultures — in anything we would recognize as “democracy” — is the work of generations. It is a cultural phenomenon. It is not accomplished by elections and facile constitution writing … especially, constitutions that shun Madisonian democracy for the State Department’s preferred establishment of Islam and its adhesive sharia law as the state religion.
Elections, in fact, play to the strengths of Islamic terrorists. Jihadists are confident, intimidating, and rigorously disciplined. They are thus certain to thrive in the chaos of nascent “democracies.” Consequently, it should be unsurprising to anyone with a shred of common sense that terrorist organizations are ascendant in the new governments of Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.
So now comes James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, riding in on its bipartisan white horse to save the day. The democracy project having failed, this blue-ribbon panel’s solution is: Let’s talk.
Let’s talk with our enemies, Iran and Syria. Let’s talk with terror abettors as if they were good guys — just like us. As if they were just concerned neighbors trying to stop the bloodshed in Iraq … instead of the dons who’ve been commanding it all along.
Someone, please explain something to me: How does it follow that, because Islamic cultures reject democracy, we somehow need to talk to Iran and Syria?
What earthly logic that supports talking with these Islamic terrorists would not also support negotiating with al Qaeda — a demarche not even a Kennedy School grad would dare propose?
When I grew up in The Bronx, there were street gangs. You mostly stayed away from them, and, if you really had to, you fought with them. But I never remember anyone saying, “Gee, maybe if we just talk with them …”
Nor do I remember, in two decades as a prosecutor, anyone saying, “Y’know, maybe if we just talk with these Mafia guys, we could achieve some kind of understanding …”
Sitting down with evil legitimizes evil. As a practical matter, all it accomplishes is to convey weakness…
The democracy project tells Islamists that we don’t understand them — or care to try understanding them. The “let’s talk” gambit confirms that we’re not just studiously ignorant; we’re ripe for the taking.
For our own sake, we need to respect the enemy. That means grasping that he’s implacable, that he means us only harm, and that he must be subdued, not appeased. Negotiating with such evil is always a mistake, for any accommodation with evil is, by definition, evil.
Rejecting the democracy project is about respecting the enemy. Declining to talk to the enemy is about respecting ourselves.