Friday, December 08, 2006

Lacking any clue

For the relief of reading some rational analysis, and even a hopeful prediction that the Baker report may have less impact than imagined, see this, from an ANALYSIS in The Australian, 08dec06, by Greg Sheridan....

THE situation is so bad in Iraq that any new ideas from anywhere are welcome. It is very difficult to see, however, what the report of the Baker commission will achieve.

...Up to a couple of weeks ago the inside Washington consensus was that the Baker commission report would provide a sort of smokescreen of political cover that would allow Bush to make whatever adjustments he thought were necessary to his Iraq policy. That may still ultimately be the report's effect.

Some of its suggestions are reasonable enough. It is the administration's desire, as much as the Baker commission's, that US troops have less of a role in frontline security work in Iraq and that more of this be taken over by Iraqis themselves. The difficult question, which cannot really be answered by the Baker report - nor indeed by anybody else - is what the US should do if the Iraqis are incapable of providing their own security.

The Pentagon talks of three options: go big, go long or go home. Going big was an option in the months after the invasion - it's no longer an option. Nor is just going home. So the only realistic option is to dig in for a long haul in Iraq but with slowly reducing numbers, forcing the Iraqis themselves to take greater responsibility for their own security.

Some of the commission's big ideas seem a bit ropey. A regional peace conference would probably do no harm. It's hard to see it doing much good. The idea of getting Iran and Syria to provide a way out for the US seems extremely strange. What possible earthly motive would Damascus or Tehran have for helping Washington out of a mess in the Middle East? What would their price be? Syria presumably would want to re-establish its hegemony in Lebanon, snuffing out definitively the Cedar Revolution of democracy in that tragic state. Iran would want uncontested regional supremacy and no effective opposition to its nuclear weapons program. Are these prices worth paying? Is the cure here as bad as the disease?

Moreover, the heart of the problems in Iraq are not caused by foreigners. Iran and Syria exacerbate the problems in Iraq and getting them to stop would be helpful. But the real problem in Iraq is the Sunni-Shia conflict and growing conflicts between different Shia militias. These divisions will not be solved with a wink from Tehran or a nod from Damascus.

James Baker has awful form when it comes to Syria. Negotiating with Syria is always one of his big ideas and provides some of the most woeful passages in his memoirs. He made countless trips to Syria when he was secretary of state and achieved absolutely nothing.

His other big idea is to put the Israel-Palestine dispute at the centre of everything and try to solve that so that everything else comes good as a result. But the Israel-Palestine dispute has almost nothing to do with what's happening in Iraq. Truly, there are more things in the Middle East than Israel.

Baker was an unsuccessful cabinet official under Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. Under Reagan he was a realist naysayer against the instincts of an idealistic president. Baker was wrong then. His big task under George Bush Sr, when he became White House chief of staff, was to win the 1992 election. Bush lost ignominiously to Clinton. Turning to Baker has not really been a surefire path to success for the Bush family in the past.

This curious report may have less effect than would seem likely today.

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