Thursday, December 7, 2006

Reactions to the ISG/Baker report

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) report is obviously a big topic of discussion today.  Here are some of the more notable commentaries I've come across.

But first, I find it mind-numbing - though entirely predictable - how the Establishment press is lining up so faithfully behind the Republicans' "let's all be nonpartisan" meme.  Here's an example: A cold, hard look at reality in Iraq Problem at home: Panel criticizes political rhetoric, deep divisions by James Sterngold San Francisco Chronicle 12/07/06.  Sterngold quotes Alan Simpson reviving the stinking hippies bogeyman:

But Alan Simpson, the retired Republican senator from Wyoming, lambasted "100-percenters" - people who took inflexible views on Iraq policy and refused to consider alternatives.

"A 100-percenter is a person you don't want to be around," Simpson said. "They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and B.O. They're not seekers; they're seethers."

"B.O." means body odor.  Gas, ulcers, and heartburn, oh my!  In other words, anyone who doesn't agree with this old Republcian prick is a stinking hippie spoiling the peaceful atmosphere of a bunch of old Democrats with the fight gone out of them sitting down and agreeing with a bunch of nasty old Republicans on a near-worthless plan to keep American soldiers in the Iraqi civil war long enough to let Bush pass off the problem to the next President.  Who but a terrorist or a dirty stinking hippie could object to that?

Democratic commission member Leon Panetta, presumably trying to put a more benign spin on it, said Simpson was only referring to neocons and hardline Republicans.  Sure, Leon, sure.  Penetta in his bipartisan mode warned of dire dangers ahead:

"If there is continued conflict on this issue, make no mistake about it, Congress will cut off the money or demand withdrawal of our troops," Panetta said. "That may happen. But it's a horrible way for this country to run foreign policy."

Ohmigod!  Congress might start demanding withdrawing American troops from a lost war?  Withdrawing them, like a large majority of the public want?  Like the voters gave the Democrats a mandate todo just a month ago?  Congress to assert its Constitutional responsibilities on foreign policy?  No, no, please, nothing but that!  That, that, wouldn't be "bipartisan".  Heavens save us from these wild stinking hippies like Wesley Clark and Jack Murtha and Nancy Pelosi!

Okay, here are some links and references on the ISG report itself.  (Damned hippies!)

Glenn Greenwald quotes Sen. Russ Feingold on MSNBC:

The fact is this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. So that's who is doing this report.

Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism. ...

This report does not do the job and it's because it was not composed of a real representative group of Americans who believe what the American people showed in the election, which is that it's time for us to have a timetable to bring the troops out of Iraq.

Anthony Cordesman, The Baker-Hamilton Study Group Report: The Elephant Gives Birth to a Mouse Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 12/06/06:

The main report ignores the problems in today's training and force development programs to the point where many of its recommendations are little more than exhortative nonsense. It also is pointless to make a long series of detailed sub-recommendations for change in the Iraqi security forces in the main report without detailed justification and without a meaningful detailed assessment of the capabilities of the existing force and training effort.
Finally, there is no "Plan B." The report does not address what happens if events spiral out of control, or how the U.S. should react to possible future contingencies. The tacit assumption is that they play it our way or we leave faster. There is no clear plan for what to do if large-scale civil war occurs; how to deal with regional actors if they become involved in the conflict or take positions the U.S. opposes. The message seems to be that domestic U.S. policy concerns demand more attention than the nature and pace of events in Iraq or America's longer-term security interests in Iraq, the region, and the world.

This does not mean that there are not many good ideas and a great deal of useful and thoughtful material embedded in the main body of the report. But, this is not a good or workable plan for the future.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, There is much more at stake for America than Iraq Financial Times 12/05/06 (note: this was written before the formal release of the report, and refers to an 18-month withdrawal plan that was not part of the final recommendations):

The president, and America's political leadership, must recognise that the US role in the world is being gravely undermined by the policies launched more than three years ago.  The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

America needs a strategic change of course, and it has to be undertaken on a broad front. It must accept the fact that real leadership in Iraq should be based on a coalition of the Shia clergy commanding the loyalty of Shia militias and of the autonomous Kurds and that the sooner a date is set for US departure, the sooner the authentic Iraqi leaders will be able to enlist Iraq's neighbours in a wider regional effort to promote a more stable Iraq.  It must also engage its allies in a joint definition of the basic parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, for the two parties to the conflict will never do so on their own.  Last but not least, the US must be ready to pursue multilateral and bilateral talks with Iran, including regional security issues.

Brzezinski in the past badly underestimated the consequences of promoting Islamic jihadism in Afghanistan.  But he's been very emphatic all along that the Iraq War was a bad idea.  He is not one of the people who only recently admitted something was fundamentally flawed in the US approach to the Iraq War.  His judgment on that has been good all along.

Glenn Greenwald in the post linked above:

From the start, the Baker-Hamilton Commission was a travesty waiting to happen. Its composition ensured that it could be nothing else, for exactly the reason Russ Feingold said. James Baker exhibited absolutely horrendous, amoral judgment on Iraq prior to the war, yet here he is, hauled in as the responsible savior, as though his past was really the opposite of what it is. As a war advocate, Baker is driven by a compelling and vested interest to make this war look like the right choice from the start, not in finding a way to end our involvement in it (and thereby confirming that it was a mistake). ...

What possible rationale exists for listening to someone who urged us to pursue a course that is the greatest strategic disaster in our country's history? ...

And now Establishment Washington says that the wise, responsible, revered expert to lead us to safety is the same James Baker who urged us to embark upon this course in the first place. Deeper irrationality is hard to fathom.

Tom Hayden, in a Huffington Post blog entry 12/07/06:

What if James Baker is remembered as the peacemaker, if not the leader of the peace movement?

Now that's a provocative question!

William Arkin, one of most informative and provocative military analysts around, in an article highlighted today by Atrios, Not What the American or Iraqi People Want Washington Post blog 12/07/06:

The wise men have confirmed what the American public has known for some time: Iraq is finished. Our strategy, whatever it is, isn't working. It is mighty disappointing, but not surprising, though that the Study Group couldn't see that there is nothing left that the United States can do to really influence what will happen there. ...

In the short term, the study group recommends an unclear and contradictory course for the American military. The call for the withdrawal of the U.S. "combat" troops is so qualified and hedged, I'm not sure that the headlines - that the study group is calling for the removal of all combat brigades by early 2008 - is even true. On the one hand, the group recommends that the independent conventional forces be removed. On the other, it calls for a significant force to stay, including special operations forces. ...

Just like the imagined silver bullet of diplomacy with Iran and Syria, the tough question here is whether the training and advisory approach will make a difference. I don't think so for a number of reasons. First, we are assigning U.S. troops to an even more sensitive and intimate mission with Iraqi players when we have already shown time and again that we are culturally challenged when it comes to understanding the Iraqis. Second, we are shifting responsibility for the security and success of U.S. forces to another party, one whose motivations and capabilities are suspect.

This is not some back-handed stay the course argument. I think we should get out altogether. ...

I understand that this "new" solution is Washington's way of withdrawing without saying it is withdrawing. But there is too much hope associated with the shift: hope that if we just redouble our effort with the Iraqis, they will all of a sudden get it and transform. In here as well is the strange article of faith that less capable Iraqi military units will succeed where more capable U.S. units failed. It seems to me that if we are admitting that there is no military solution to the problem, there is no Iraqi military solution either.

Sidney Blumenthal, Beating off the rescue party [it's not my headline!] Salon 12/07/06:

Since the midterm elections loss, Bush has conducted a foreign policy intended to counter the Baker-Hamilton Commission. <strong>In a sense, his entire foreign policy is a case study in reaction formation.</strong> From the start, he was determined to do everything opposite from what President Clinton had done. Bush abandoned the Middle East peace process, cast aside the negotiations with North Korea over its development of nuclear weapons, withdrew from the secret diplomacy with reform-minded Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and brushed aside concerns about terrorism. Even before Sept. 11, Bush entertained scenarios about invading Iraq. In this he was operating in the shadow of his father, who refused to march to Baghdad in the Gulf War to topple Saddam Hussein. Bush envisioned himself succeeding where he believed his father had failed, thereby exceeding him.

As soon as Baker declared that staying the course was an unacceptable option, Bush furiously initiated rounds of diplomacy guaranteed to disqualify Baker's proposals before they were formally presented.  He rejected talks with Iran. He suggested that Syria comply with his demands, which Baker would propose as the proper subject of negotiations, before there could be any direct relations.  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was prompted to repackage long-rejected proposals to the Palestinians as the basis for peace talks there.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was sent to the region to engage in predetermined fruitless nondiplomacy in order to suggest the appearance of diplomacy.  Thus Bush created a series of false events so that he might claim he had tried Baker's approach but that it had failed.  (my emphasis)

The "milboggers" that I follow are having a hard time processing the ISG report.  Or maybe it's more accurate to say that they process it the way they do all non-cheerleading input on the Iraq War: they dismiss it as ignorant, malicious or worse.  At Yankeemom, we read:

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the Islamofacsists are having great joy over what’s going on with our government these days.  The Dems' wins in this past midterm election made them very happy and emboldened and now the Iraq Study Group has just sent shivers of delight throughout the lands of those who wish to see the West, especially America, dead.

I'm try to picture Al Qaida types living in huts and tunnels in the wilds of Pakistan "shivering with delight" at what those funky hippies James Baker and Alan Simpson and Ed Meese came up with in the ISG report.  She continues:

Our politicians sit up there on the Hill and spew their idiotic appeasement BS and play with our troops lives.  Our Elected [sic] seem to be more concerned with bringing down this administration than the welfare of our troops and what they are doing.  Our military’s job just got that much harder as the enemy seems to see this as a "no holds barred" time for them.  ("Death to the Infidel Dogs!!  Death to America!!")  All this talky, talky, talk is just getting more of our troops killed.  I really can’t believe for one nanosecond longer that our politicians give a rat's a$$ about America or the troops.  If they would turn their outrage of the Bush administration and focus it on the enemy and the welfare of this country and the military, things could be alot different.  But no, it seems they believe their job is to get the world to love us and make it as difficult as possible for our military to do it's job.  I don't really care if the world loves us.  They don't and no amount of talking will change that.  They are just waiting for us to fall.  Anyone else wonder why?  That maybe they have an agenda that is not in our best interest?  Our country is under attack and I, for one, take that very personally.  I also take very personally the disregard for our troops that has been coming out of DC (Carry [sic], Murfa [sic] and Raingle [sic] to name a few).  This elitist PC disconnect has to end!

But she doesn't bother to engage any of the points in the ISG report which, after all, recommends continuing the war and keeping American troops in Iraq idefinitely.  Does this mean she's opposed to training the Iraqi Army (aka, the Shi'a militia) and turning over combat duties to them?  Apparently she thinks that cheering for soldiers means trying to smear anyone who criticizes Bush's war policies as allies of The Terrorists.

She also links to this site, A Soldier's Perspective, which features the maudlin lyrics to a song called "Flag Up High", a song that seems to be focused on the message that injured soldiers and veterans who get jacked around by the Veterans Administration on their health care shouldn't complain.  Say what?  This is what those two blogsconsider Supporting The Troops?

Brat over at Tanker Brothers actually makes a good analytical point, though it appears to have occurred accidentally, in General Casey Speaks 12/06/06:

General Casey is the Commander of the MultiNational Force. In my last post, I asked where is the military? Were they consulted in the creation of the Iraq Study Group's report? Well, General Casey does have something to say about Iraq, and on December 4 it was posted on the MNF site. ... I believe what General Casey has to say is important...

... this post [quoting Casey] makes it VERY clear (in less than 160 pages I might add!) that progress is being made in Iraq. I hear on a regular basis from 'my' boots on the ground that progress is being made. General Casey, a military man who is obviously very familiar with what is going on in Iraq, says progress is being made. He sees ongoing success of the mission mandate in Iraq.

I have to wonder if any of the ISG members have spent any length of time in Iraq recently? As I stated in my previous post, ANY lay person can find a myriad of documentation of the successes of the Iraqis as they work to reclaim their country. So for me, the only question is: Who are we to believe about the state of affairs in Iraq? I believe that the future of Iraq is far too important to leave to the politicians. All the Coalition countries (and no, it is NOT just the U.S there), have committed themselves to helping, standing with, the Iraqis. If some politicans have their way, people in Iraq who have now tasted the sweet fruits of democracy will be abandoned by politicians who do not keep their commitments.

Brat is accurate in picking up that there's an alternative course to the one the Baker repoprt suggests that would rely on military escalation.  As Blumenthal explains in the Salon article linked above, Bush is likely to wind up with a Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendation for escalation that he can use as one of his excuses for blowing off the Baker report:

In preparation for his rejection of the Baker Commission report, Bush created two other study groups within his administration, one led by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The effect was to diminish the commission as merely one among several groups offering advice. For all intents and purposes Pace's group is a counter-commission. In opposition to the Baker Commission proposals for the strategic withdrawal of troops by 2008 and diplomatic openings to Syria and Iran, as well as a regional conference on Iraq and a renewal of the Middle East peace process, Pace will suggest a new military offensive - 20,000 more U.S. troops to secure Baghdad (exactly the idea Rumsfeld cautioned against in his memo), 10,000 more U.S. advisors for the Iraq army, and hundreds of billions more in appropriations to sustain a commitment stretching indefinitely.

Pace's plan reflects the notion that with one more concerted offensive, one more application of overwhelming might, the United States can at last gain the upper hand and prevail. Even though commanders in Iraq, along with Pace, have stressed that only a political solution can pacify Iraq, some, along with Pace, are still in thrall to the chimera of military victory.  So long as someone with stars on his shoulder promises victory to Bush, he will cling to it. So long as he dreams of victory, he will find someone with stars to tell him he can have it.  The alternative to wishful thinking would be acknowledgment of his error and acceptance of his fate.  (my emphasis)

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