WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — James A. Baker III, the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan panel reassessing Iraq strategy for President Bush, said Sunday that he expected the panel would depart from Mr. Bush’s repeated calls to “stay the course,” and he strongly suggested that the White House enter direct talks with countries it had so far kept at arm’s length, including Iran and Syria.
“I believe in talking to your enemies,” he said in an interview on the ABC News program “This Week,” noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush’s father as secretary of state.
“It’s got to be hard-nosed, it’s got to be determined,” Mr. Baker said. “You don’t give away anything, but in my view, it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.”
The fact that Bush told Baker it was okay with Bush for Baker to join the ISG suggests Bush is looking for a face-saving way to do a big shift in policy toward Iraq. He's got to realize almost everyone thinks US policy in Iraq is a failure.
Baker wants to try to negotiate with players in Iraq and surrounding countries to try to work out a deal that would satisfy various warring groups and bring Iraq some semblance of peace. I'm not optimistic that this can be done. But it is worth a try - preferably with a team of negotiators run by someone of Baker's caliber rather than by Condi Rice or other current Bush Administration top national security policy people.
He explicitly rejected a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, saying that would invite Iran, Syria and “even our friends in the gulf” to fill the power vacuum. He also dismissed, as largely unworkable, a proposal by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to decentralize Iraq and give the country’s three major sectarian groups, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all. Mr. Baker said he had concluded “there’s no way to draw lines” in Iraq’s major cities, where ethnic groups are intermingled.
According to White House officials and commission members, Mr. Baker has been talking to President Bush and his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, on a regular basis. Those colleagues say he is unlikely to issue suggestions that the president has not tacitly approved in advance.
The Iraq Study Group (ISG) includes among its members former Clinton Administration Defense Secretary William Perry, former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta, former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former CIA director Robert Gates, former Republican Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, and former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese. These are not fringe people in Washington DC.
Unfortunately this misplaced loyalty has caused Baker to rule out the only viable solution remaining for Iraq: the decentralization of Iraqi governance. Baker would have to admit the situation is dire there to adopt this drastic solution that I proposed more than a year and a half ago and that Joseph Biden, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has more recently endorsed. Baker has already dismissed the idea of dividing Iraq into three autonomous regions and distributing the oil wealth among the Kurds, Shi'a, and Sunni Arabs. He has argued publicly that the populations in the major cities are too intermingled to create autonomous regions, which he claims would cause a civil war if implemented.
On their recent trip to Iraq, if Baker and almost all of the other commissioners had set foot outside the Green Zone fortress, they would have found that the country is already in the throes of a civil war. In fact, the civil war and the resulting ethnic cleansing have reinforced what is a natural partition. The Kurds and their militias have their own quasi country in which the Iraqi government does not govern and the Iraqi flag does not fly. Many of the Shi'ite areas are governed by militias, which have also infiltrated the Iraqi police and army. In Sunni areas, guerrillas effectively control many towns. U.S. forces have been unable to disarm any of these armies.
A federal system that stops short of outright partitioning is one option. Another option is full partitioning that creates new separate sovereign states. The problem with both these options is that the Sunnis and Shias do not just want to avoid falling under the domination of the other group. They do not have the Anglosphere's preference for equality. They want to dominate. So a partition would be a very unwelcome obstacle to their ambitions to dominate each other.
Can negotiations produce a solution that'll somehow cause these groups to restrain their ambitions? The odds become higher the longer the ethnic cleansing goes on because the ethnic cleansing creates more areas where only one sectarian group (e.g. Arab Shias or Arab Sunnis) can be found. But as Basra demonstrates, the Shiites fight tribe against tribe even after most of the Sunnis have fled.
Continuing sectarian violence in Iraq and fears that the country could be headed toward civil war has some former US officials and experts calling for the decentralization of Iraq through the creation of three highly autonomous regions along ethnic lines.
The Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, is said to be preparing a report that calls for splitting the country into three separate regions for Shi'ites, Sunni and Kurds.
The group is expected to release the report following November's mid-term congressional elections.
Iraq's central government would remain in effect, according to the group's supposed recommendation, though it would focus the majority of its attention on foreign affairs, border security and the distribution of the country's oil wealth to the autonomous regions.
What else can be negotiated that doesn't involve local autonomy for the Sunnis? They are fighting in part because US troops are there (though we are supposed to pretend that is not the case) and in part because they do not want to be ruled by a Shia majority. The Sunnis want the oil money but bulk of the oil is in Shia and Kurdish areas. Any chance of a deal would need to have an enforceable mechanism for making sure the Sunnis get a cut of the oil revenue. But who would enforce the deal? US troops in country would provoke the Sunnis to keep fighting. I do not see how to work this out. Is there a way?
Baker has more constraints on him than just what President Bush will find acceptable. Baker wants the ISG's recommendations to be bipartisan and major Democrats and Republicans are ISG members.
JAMES BAKER, Former Secretary of State: Well, what we would like to do is to see if we can come forward with a consensus report. It won't be worth much if Republicans go one way and Democrats go another, so my distinguished co-chairman and I are working very hard to see if we can produce a consensus report that might make some suggestions as to initiatives or advice that Congress and the president could utilize in continuing the mission in Iraq.
JAMES BAKER: Well, because it's really important, if our report is going to mean anything, if it's going to have any chance of being embraced by opinion-makers in the United States, by the administration, by the Congress, we really have to take it out of politics. It cannot be seen to be politically inspired or politically motivated or politically directed, and we couldn't do that if we reported before the election, midterm election.
MARGARET WARNER: But some people may say, "But Americans and Iraqis are being killed everyday. Here's the group that may provide us with some way out."
LEE HAMILTON: Well, we're proceeding with as much speed as we possibly can. But we want to get it right.
We have interviewed, I think, overall more than 150 people. We've contacted every expert we can think of; many experts have contacted us. We're sorting through mounds and mounds of information. Every time we step out on the street, somebody gives us a recommendation that we ought to make.
And we're trying very hard. We're doing our level best to try to understand a very, very complicated situation and to come up with recommendations, as Secretary Baker has suggested, that will be broadly supported, will be pragmatic, will be constructive, and forward-looking.
Baker is really already in negotiations with factions of Washington DC power brokers. Bush okayed Baker's creation of the ISG. The ISG members have consulted with large numbers of experts (though I wonder as to the real extent of their expertise) and power brokers.
Even if all the important factions in Washington DC can be brought to a consenus on Iraq there is still the problem that the Iraqi government is so divided, corrupt, and at war with itself using rival militias that a deal in Iraq between Iraqis might not be possible.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Congressman Hamilton, the other major player here, obviously, is the Iraqi government, the Iraqi leadership. And after your visit to Baghdad, you said, look, they've got three months to get a handle on this. And you also wrote -- and I just wanted to quote you back to yourself -- "Whether they have the political will to put aside sectarian differences and the capability to govern remain open questions."
Now, have you seen anything in the intervening month and a half to suggest they are stepping up to it?
LEE HAMILTON: No. I still have real questions in my mind as to the capacity, the will of the Iraqi government to move. What is interesting is that all of the American officials are saying the same thing, saying to the government, "You've got two, three, four, five months to get this act together and to take steps to improve the security in the country, to move towards national reconciliation, and, of course, to begin to deliver the basic services that government should deliver, electricity, water, and the other things."
I think it's very much a question whether this political leadership can do it. I think that we must give them a chance to do it. There are some encouraging signs. Their rhetoric has been pretty good, but the follow through with action has not measured up to our hopes.
US policy toward Iraq is going to change after the elections. That would be in the cards even if the Republicans managed somehow to maintain control of the House. Future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the most Open Borders voting record in the House of Representatives. A coming shift of House control into the hands of Open Borders advocate Pelosi looks to be the biggest cost of the Iraq Debacle.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2006 October 15 01:14 PM Mideast Iraq Exit Debate|