Doubting Baker

While many in Washington expect former secretary of state James Baker to engineer a shift in U.S. Iraq policy, a variety of international online commentators doubt he can do it.

Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton lead the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel expected to issue a report in the coming weeks on the rethinking of American strategy in Iraq. Along with incoming defense secretary Robert Gates, Baker's group marks the return of policymakers from the first President Bush and, in the words of The Australian, "the first steps toward a new policy."

Skepticism about the Baker group has united Arab and neoconservative commentators who otherwise agree on little. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, editor in chief of The News of Pakistan thinks a fundamental change of course is unlikely.

"To correct American policy in the Middle East would require something like a political earthquake in both Washington and Israel - and there is no sign as yet of any such upheaval," he wrote. "In both countries, hard-liners are still very much in charge."

"The Iraq war has caused colossal damage in terms of human casualties, material destruction and the squandering of financial resources. It has spread political instability across the region as well as fomenting terrorist violence and sectarian strife. Perhaps the greatest casualty of all has been the loss of America's reputation and moral authority," Rahman wrote. "In spite of this disastrous balance sheet, there is still no consensus in the US that the invasion and occupation were a colossal mistake which can only be corrected by a full withdrawal."

Nicola Nasser, a veteran Arab journalist based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said both Democrats and Republicans "are expected to play politics more than they will plan policies."

Writing for the London-based Alarab.com news site, he said that U.S. policy "is dooming historical friendships between Washington and several Arab regimes, discrediting thousands of Arab liberals who were inspired by the American way of life and creating the ideal political environment for extreme anti-Americanism. Arab disillusionment with U.S. hollow promises will reinforce the trend further."

For Matthew d'Ancona, editor of the conservative British magazine The Specator, "the problem with Mr Baker's ideas is that they do not constitute a Plan B. They reflect precisely the foreign policy 'realism' that made Plan A (the liberation of Iraq) necessary in the first place."

"Mr Baker, a strong advocate of old school containment, diplomacy and deterrence, was instrumental in bringing the 1991 Gulf War to an end before Saddam had been deposed. The consequence was 12 more years of cat and mouse with the UN, Iraqi development of weapons of mass destruction (wherever they are now), murderous oppression of the Iraqi people, and extensive financial support for and training of Islamist terrorists in Iraq. It was precisely because the Baker doctrine failed that the Bush doctrine became necessary."

Robert Fox, blogger for The Guardian of London, also questioned the Baker group's ability to bring about change.

"The problem with advisers like Baker and Hamilton and the new gang of consiglieri in the Bush court is that they rely on the wisdom of ages. Some, like Henry Kissinger, are over 80 and their heyday was a political generation ago. The problems they are grappling with in Iraq, a country of whose landscape they known little at first hand, are made by young men in their 20s and 30s, a generation that handles RPGs, IED booby traps, and the internet with equal dexterity."

To be sure, many observers share the view of the Sydney Morning Herald that the Baker study group "will sideline the so-called Bush doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East." Baker's group, the Herald wrote, "will provide the White House with the political cover for changes that would have been unthinkable a few months ago."

But Philip Stephens, a senior writer for the Financial Times said it may be too late to change policy. In a piece republished in South Africa's Business Day, Stephens wrote that "Washington's foreign policy community, within and beyond the administration, is steeped in pessimism that quite quickly tips into fatalism.

"There is scenario planning aplenty -- scaling back, staged withdrawal, regional engagement, partition and even staying the course," Stephens said. "The administration has prepared for every contingency. But answers? I heard none."

There is, he concludes, "a growing recognition that the US has already been defeated."

By Jefferson Morley |  November 15, 2006; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Americas , Mideast
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With Baker you can be sure that what's good for the Carlyle Group is good for America.

Posted by: Reynolds | November 15, 2006 12:25 PM

Maybe Baker and Gates will sell nuclear weapons to Iran and Syria in exchange for them controlling the Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq.

I wonder just how effective either man can be in the middle east.

Posted by: Dona Dunsmore | November 15, 2006 12:33 PM

The Iraq study group is a joke. Eagleburger and Perry are the only two qualified to sit on the panel.

There are really only two options; pull out or stay to win (stabilize the government and improve internal security). Over the past few years we've all heard the upside of pulling out (thanks WaPo, NYT, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc.), but noboby in the MSM has spent a column inch of effort outlining the likely results of a U.S. pullout. There you go WaPo, you can be the first!

I think media folk call this "news analysis". Wouldn't it be a public service to outline what is likely to happen after a U.S. pullout so the public can make a FULLY INFORMED decision??? I know I'm probably asking too much.


Posted by: Tom K | November 15, 2006 01:27 PM

I think they should have just gotten JD Power and Associates to take a poll as to what to do next. It would probably be cheaper.

Posted by: Frank | November 15, 2006 01:53 PM

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is editor in chief of The News of Pakistan but that article was
written by Patrick Seale. See
http://www.agenceglobal.com/Article.asp?Id=1098

Posted by: Terrence Ford | November 15, 2006 01:58 PM

I can only go by the record. The Bush policies in the Middle East are creating a failed state in Iraq and allowed al-Qaida to florish there when it couldn't under Saddam Hussein. Bush has destroyed our military services by privatizing their logistics, sending them into a war without the proper equipment, providing too few troops for the mission, and without the famous exit strategy.
By way of contrast, the first President Bush's foreign policy team, led by Mr. Baker, created a grand coalition against Saddam in the first Gulf War that included some of NATO, many Arab states, including Syria, that successfully drove Saddam from Kuwait. Saddam was contained, and al-Qaida did not exist in Iraq. We did not occupy Iraq or attempt to create our own image in that Middle East. Contrast the casualities of the Gulf War, with those of the Iraq War. How many Iraq civilians died in the Gulf War and how many in the Iraq War.
The Neoconservative don't like Baker because he was even handed at the Madrid Conference in tring to bring peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are close to the Likud Party in Israel, which was then led by a hard liner Yitzhak Shamir, the former Leader of the Terroist Stern Gang during War of Independence.
Baker is the best hope for peace in the Middle East, if he acts in the same manner as he did as Secretary of State.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | November 15, 2006 01:59 PM

You see the crafty,veiled, criticisms, the beginning of the rant and hard game...by the predicable voices, in the predicable papers. It'll get awful. Israel doesn't want America out of Iraq, wants bases put down instead and Iran invaded. AND NOW! Israel doesn't want decency regarding Palestine. It wants Palestine. Israel sees the writing on the wall...it's savage land grabbling...it's leech upon the American soul and treasury, may be over. But how about airpac? How about the Jewish owned media? The battle has hardly begun. It will be royal.

Posted by: THE ONLY QUESTION | November 15, 2006 02:51 PM

Hopefully, the adults are back in charge
of American foreign policy. Divison of Irag
in three unequal parts united by a confederation form of government seems the the only realiastic solution. Nation building should be dropped from the options employed in this and other situations. We should get back to our
first priority--containing and distroying
terrorists whereever we find them.

Posted by: John Kingston | November 15, 2006 03:23 PM

Any attempt to increase troop levels should be coupled with a vote to restore the draft

Posted by: | November 15, 2006 03:39 PM

We need to cut and run, draw in to ourselves and let the rest of the world go to hell. First order of business=protectionism. Protect our jobs and put quotas and tarifs on all imports. Raise gas taxes to four dollars per gallon. Build 250 new nuclear plants to replace arab oil and let the greasy arab sheiks return to sharialand and well deserved obscurantism.

Posted by: jib | November 15, 2006 04:23 PM

The Arab commentators are correct in that it will be very difficult to change the direction of the Bush Administration. But, it may provide the framework for a non-partisan foreign policy in 2008. In deed, discussions could begin in January within the various committees in Congress. If the Republicans want to survive as a party, they are going to have to start dealing with the people's business as opposed to the interests of business. Any hearings held now in Congress will reflect the policies of Bush's Congress. Frankly, I don't see much in the way of change in the Senate leadership for the Republicans,and there is too much "free trade", open borders nonsense, and DLC whining on the Democratic side. If either or both parties go with Comprehensive Immigration Reform They will be out in 2008.
If both parties are smart, they will impeach Bush, and get him out of the way before he destroys the world. I don't think the Republican party will survive with two more years of the Bush Administration. With him and Cheney out of the way, you might be able to construct an intelligent foreign policy. Faint hope with a gutless Congress.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | November 15, 2006 05:35 PM

Search for a group of moderates who will work within to rebuild the country on a strong economic program. Give those people something to do that they can take pride in.

An example, Operacion Manos a la Obra ("Operation Bootstrap") in Puerto Rico. Sr. Luis Munoz Marin's, a great leader of Puerto Rico, created policies and programs that transformed Puerto Rico's economy, politcs, and society.

November 15, 2006/18:05 CST
Dan Gajdosik/Beloit, WI.

Posted by: Dan Gajdosik | November 15, 2006 07:05 PM

Rumsfeld fired, Gates taking over, Baker Group thinking indepth about the ins-and-outs, recent elections with Democrats as winners, even General Abaizaid saying that we should not suddenly stop the Iraq war, all of this is plain foreplay to pull out and let Iraq, Iran and Syria figure it out. This war is finished. We are already cleaning up. Bush and Democrats are now looking at China, etc. in the Far East. Only problem is still whatabout Israel - quite frankly I wouldn't invest any money there.

Posted by: Fred - Frisco | November 16, 2006 10:49 AM

Tom, there is a 3rd option, which as far as I can see, is the only one that stands a chance of working. Because the U.S. went into Iraq without any legitimacy -- having thumbed its nose at Arab and indeed global opinion, having carried out the invasion unilaterally without U.N. authority, and having gone in on false pretenses ("weapons of mass destruction," then "democratization," both of which have been fully debunked) -- the U.S. is now completely incapable of quelling the insurgency, of bringing order to Iraq or of stopping a full-blown civil war. Conversely, if the U.S. pulls out, the civil war that has begun will also continue and worsen and the power vacuum will only increase, broadening into a full-blown regional war that will also cost the U.S. dearly. What is needed now is an international stabilization force for Iraq. But that force cannot have American participation because the Americans, quite naturally (in light of their track record of incompetence, torture and illegality there and also thanks to their blatantly biased Israel-always-right-Arabs-always-wrong policies), are now viewed as invaders, occupiers, torturers and oppressors by the vast majority of Iraqis and indeed of all Arabs. Since the U.S. is totally discredited today in Iraq and lacks even a smidgeon of legitimacy there, it can no longer play any useful role there. But since the U.S. created this mess in the first place, no self-respecting foreign power is going to pay to go in and clean up what George W. Bush and his cronies started. Therefore, the U.S. must pull out of Iraq and simultaneously finance -- likely to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars -- an international stabilization force that will operate in full legality (unlike the current U.S. unilateralist occupiers), will have some legitimacy, and will include Arab/Muslim as well as credible Western participation (ie: countries that did not sanction the U.S.'s adventure there). This will be costly to the U.S. both in terms of finances and prestige, but all of the other options will be even more costly. You broke it. You can't fix it. Now you must pay handsomely for someone else to go in and clean up your mess.
In addition, the international community is going to have to demand some legal accountability for the crimes committed by the U.S. in Iraq. Initiatives such as the attempt in Germany to have Rumsfeld prosecuted for war crimes can help. But for there to be any hope of a stable Iraq emerging from the hell that the U.S. created there, others, up to and including Bush, must also face trial.

Posted by: Rahim | November 16, 2006 12:02 PM

Rahim: You are dreaming a foolish little muslim dream. The troops in Iraq are going nowhere and not one penny will be spent rebuilding anything not directly of use to the US military.

Posted by: Axel Foley | November 16, 2006 05:32 PM

Makes sense to me, Rahim. The U.S. caused this catastrophe but lacks the legitimacy or credibility to fix it. So the U.S. must pay reparations so that other more credible actors can clean their mess up. Otherwise, the U.S. will be stuck, alone, in an ever-worsening quagmire. Nobody in the U.S. can claim they were not warned that precisely this would happen. But their arrogant leader decided he knew better and the U.S., the world -- and most of all, Iraqis -- are today paying a terrible price. This arrogant bullying by Washington will never be forgiven.

Posted by: William | November 16, 2006 10:25 PM

Axel, you're the one dreaming a foolish -- and sick -- dream if you think keeping U.S. troops in Iraq will not worsen an already catastrophic situation, and if you think pulling them out without some credible international stabilization force will not also worsen the situation. Keep dreaming that American military might can solve everything; the rest of the world is already all too well aware that this very attitude has brought America to where it is today: reviled the world over and fighting a costly and losing battle that is bringing instability and war to the entire Middle East and ever more deaths and wasted billions for Americans. The neocons' sick dream got us where we are today; persisting with this kind of denial will only make matters worse.

Posted by: Rahim | November 17, 2006 01:31 PM

I am ashamed that we think Baker and his ilk are the answer. America should spread democracy and support it, not cozy up with vicious dictatorships in the name of "stability". Everybody deserves the right to live in freedom not just white liberals.

Posted by: pATRICK | December 6, 2006 04:49 PM

Rahim would be the first to initiate some honor killing of a fourteen year old girl but talks of Rumsfield's "war crimes". Such is the topsy turvy world of muslims.

Posted by: to Rahim | December 6, 2006 04:55 PM

We need a permanent consistent discussion by and for the American people on war policy etc.
Whatever else is true of the current situation, either We the people, if I may use the phrase, here realize we must do more daily to guide this country or we will lose its advantages.

Posted by: timothy | December 7, 2006 08:29 AM

With Mr. Baker at the helm there is a question of just who does he represent when he chairs this committee since it has been noted that his law firm represents Saudi Arabia.
His suggestion that there should be a meeting with certain states in the area WITHOUT the State of Israel sounds like a repeat of Chamberlain's agreeing to dismember what is now known as the Czech Republic-so called "Peace in Our time" attitude

Posted by: Harry R. | December 7, 2006 10:10 PM

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