Baker-Hamilton Lunacy

Baker-Hamilton Lunacy
By Kenneth R. Timmerman | December 15, 2006

Much ink has already been spilled on the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. Welcomed by liberals and condemned by conservatives, more importantly it has been rejected by just every public figure in Iraq. Without a doubt, the report’s most controversial recommendation was the call for direct talks with the governments of Syria and Iran. What has gone unrecognized, however, are the stunning misconceptions underlying that recommendation. (Note: the page references below all refer to the PDF version of the report, which can be downloaded here. All emphasis is my own). Misconception #1: “Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively.” (p7) Neither Iran nor Syria has any interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq. On the contrary, their behavior shows that chaos and the collapse of the Iraqi government are in fact their goal. If they had been concerned with avoiding chaos in Iraq, they had many good opportunities to support the Iraqi government, to support the building of a national Iraqi army, and to strengthen border controls. Instead, they promoted insurgents whose goals were to ignite sectarian conflict.  Misconception #2: “In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available.” (p7) Since the 1979 revolution, the United States has repeatedly attempted to “influence the behavior” of the regime, without success.  The Baker-Hamilton proposal is a warmed rehash of the same failed policy we’ve been trying since 1979. Following the seizure of US hostages in Tehran in 1979, the U.S. and its allies imposed sweeping diplomatic, economic, and political sanctions. Tens of billions of dollars of Iranian assets were frozen around the world. The new Iranian regime became an instant outcast. Oil output plummeted to one third the pre-revolutionary levels. Unemployment soared. Per capita income collapsed – and has still not regained pre-revolutionary levels. Despite these “disincentives,” the regime persisted in the behavior we found objectionable. One could draw similar examples from the 1980s, the 1990s, or the past few years. Again and again, the world community has sought to “influence the behavior” of the Tehran regime, and the regime has brushed off threats and incentives alike. On the contrary, this is a regime that has been willing to pay a tremendously high price in blood and treasure to pursue its murderous policies. Recall that the only reason the regime ultimately released the U.S. hostages in January 1981 was out of fear that the incoming Reagan administration would join forces with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and bring about the collapse of the regime. Short of an all-out U.S. military assault on Iran, U.S. support for regime-change is the only approach that can avoid a future Persian Gulf region dominated by a radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons. Saying pretty-please, as the Baker-Hamilton group proposed, just isn’t going to work. Misconception #3: “Several Iraqi, U.S., and international officials commented to us that Iraqi opposition to the United States— and support for Sadr—spiked in the aftermath of Israel’s bombing campaign in Lebanon. “ (p24) This is pure mendacity, and is transparently false. It was the Feb. 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra (possibly carried out on orders from Iran) that ignited all-out sectarian conflict, not an Iranian proxy war hundreds of miles from Iraq’s borders. Misconception #4: Iraq cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other major regional issues, interests, and unresolved conflicts. To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East—the Arab-Israeli  conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism—are inextricably linked.” This is the type of nonsense the Saudis, their Washington lobbyists and others have been promoting for some time. Bombs are going off in Najaf? Hariri gets assassinated in Lebanon? It’s all the fault of the Jews. If there is logic here, it is not of the sort to make Americans proud. Misconception #5: “…the Support Group should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions. This is a prescription for transforming Iran into the superpower of the Persian Gulf. It’s no coincidence that following these encouragements in the Baker-Hamilton report, Iran announced it was installing 3,000 centrifuges in Natanz. Pay no price, pay no heed (or as my 13-year son would say, “No pain, no brain.”)   Note that the Saudis and their GCC partners are not the fools that Baker and Hamilton appear to be. The day after the Iranian nuclear announcement, the GCC announced that it would be studying a joint “peaceful” nuclear program, as I reported earlier this week. Misconception #6: “…[T]he United States and Iran cooperated in Afghanistan, and both sides should explore whether this model can be replicated in the case of Iraq. (Recommendation 9 – p37) Recommendation #9 is the core of the Baker-Hamilton argument for engaging Iran. Here they repeat Misconception #1 (that Iran actually wants to avoid chaos in Iraq) and Misconception #2 (that the U.S. can influence Iran’s behavior by offering incentives), to arrive at Misconception #6, a historic misreading of what actually happened in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on America. It should be noted that nowhere in the report does the ISG ever describe how Iran cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan. In television interviews, Baker has referred to multi-lateral talks on Afghanistan’s future that included an Iranian government representative. But for the Iranians, the Afghan talks were a no-brainer. Once the United States had smashed the Taliban regime and demonstrated its dominance in Afghanistan, of course the Iranians wanted to have a stake in crafting Afghanistan’s future. No one else was going to protect the Hazara community (Afghanistan’s Shiite population). Iran felt a historic responsibility to step up to the plate. It’s a safe bet that the Islamic regime in Tehran will take part in international groupings that include U.S. representatives if they believe that is the only way of meeting their interests. But this is simply not the case in Iraq. Beyond that, however, is an omission of tremendous significance. Far from opposing al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as the Baker-Hamilton report suggests, the Iranian regime provided material and logistical support to al Qaeda before 9/11, and opened a rat line to evacuate top al Qaeda operatives to Iran in the weeks after the U.S. assault on Afghanistan began, as the 9/11 commission report reported. Even today, Iran harbors several hundred top al Qaeda terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden’s eldest son Saad and al Qaeda military leader Saef al-Adel, whom they claim to be holding under “house arrest.” Misconception #7: …Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflame sectarian tensions within Iran, with serious consequences for Iranian national security interests.” (p37) Iran’s leaders don’t fear “sectarian tensions,” they have been stoking them. And should Saudi Arabia or others start to provide support for Azeri, Baluchi, or other separatists groups inside Iran, don’t worry: the Rev. Guards will crack down in a hurry, and Amnesty International won’t be invited to the party. Like several other “incentives” listed by the Baker-Hamilton group, this is a straw man. (Other “incentives” they cite include things the Iranians know we will do anyway, such “preventing the Taliban from destabilizing Afghanistan.”) The Iranians certainly aren’t going to change their behavior to get what’s being given to them for free. Misconception #8: Further, Iran’s refusal to cooperate [with the Support Group] would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks (p38) This statement combines two separate misconceptions: first, that Iran actually seeks a broader dialogue with the United States (it does not: it merely seeks an end to perceived U.S. support for regime change), and second, that the United States might actually hold Iran accountable if it refuses to adhere to U.S. conditions for our cooperation.  The record of U.S. negotiations with Iran has been crystal clear:  the minute the United States begins making concessions to Iran, we are already have way down the slippery slope to capitulation. For proof, re-read my cautious welcome in these pages to Condoleeza Rice’s offer of a straight-up, black-and-white offer to Iran in May to give up its nuclear program. Anyone who thinks for an instant the Iranians aren’t aware of our dismal negotiation record has never tried to buy a Persian carpet. Glimmers of truth occasionally make it through the smokescreen of this absolutely abysmal report. Proposed talks between Iran and the United States about the situation in Iraq have not taken place. One Iraqi official told us: ‘Iran is negotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad.’” (p25) Given that no one is making the Iranians pay a price for “negotiating” with the United States by setting off shaped-charge IEDs that murder Iraqis and U.S. troops, why should they sit with us and agree to make concessions? If the Baker-Hamilton report had been written by high school freshmen who had never left the American suburbs, one would give them a pat on the back and suggest that they will change their tune once they encounter the real world, where America’s enemies are numerous, determined, and deadly. But Baker and Hamilton don’t have that excuse. Their report, which offers little more than U.S. capitulation, is based on lies and misconceptions these veteran practitioners of U.S. foreign policy are smart enough to understand.The President should respond to it just as Baker demanded when he told Congress not to consider it “like a fruit salad and say, ‘I like this, but I don’t like that. I like this, but I don’t like that.’” He should send the report back to its authors with a Donald Trump cover note: “You’re fired!”

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