Friday, December 08, 2006

Baker-Hamilton part two

Baker-Hamilton Part II

Well there’s already been a reaction from the Bush administration. It seems very unlikely there will be any talking to Syria or Iran regarding Iraq. From his news conference with Tony Blair, Bush called himself “disappointed by the pace of success” and said that “we’ll change it if we want to succeed.” He was then challenged by a British reporter that who essential said that that statement made Bush seem out of touch with what is going on in Iraq. Bush seems unable to admit that things in Iraq are really really going badly and unless he does this how is there ever going to be a change in strategy.

Well back to the report. This time around text from the report will be in italics the blockqoute route didn’t work all that well.

The next section of the report deals with the consequences of Iraq falling apart.

Ambassadors from neighboring countries told us that they fear the distinct possibility of Sunni-Shia clashes across the Islamic world. Many expressed a fear of Shia insurrections—perhaps fomented by Iran—in Sunni-ruled states.

Terrorism could grow. As one Iraqi official told us, “Al Qaeda is now a franchise in Iraq, like McDonald’s.” Left unchecked, al Qaeda in Iraq could continue to incite violence between Sunnis and Shia.

What a sad comment. Al Qaeda is now a franchise. Once again a little bit of planning by the Bush administration as to what to do after the war would have been great. I realized we were in trouble from this following story. The marines were sending soldiers to train Iraqi MPs. This unit was still in the US when the war ended. They were going to go to Germany and then on to Iraq. They wouldn’t actually be in Iraq fro several months. My reaction was what the hell’s going to happen in the mean time. This unit should have been forward deployed in Germany before the start of the war. It then should have been in Iraq days not months after the war was “over.” You can find example after example of this type of planning or lack thereof. This is the reason we are in the mess that we are in Iraq.

If Iraqis continue to perceive Americans as repre-senting an occupying force, the United States could become its own worst enemy in a land it liberated from tyranny.

I can’t see how this changes unless by some miracle the violence can be stopped or significantly reduced.

The next section deals with the three choice in what to do in Iraq. They boil down to (and this is nothing new): 1. getting out right away (cut and run as the Republicans would say); 2. staying the course which was the administration’s plan until right before the election when it said it never advocated staying the course; 3. more troops (which I have to believe at this point in time will never happen); 4. breaking Iraq apart. All of these are rejected. The report then says the following:

We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the President: an Iraq that can “govern itself, sustain itself, and de-fend itself.” In our view, this definition entails an Iraq with a broadly representative government that maintains its territorial integrity, is at peace with its neighbors, denies terrorism a sanc-tuary, and doesn’t brutalize its own people. Given the current situation in Iraq, achieving this goal will require much time and will depend primarily on the actions of the Iraqi people. In our judgment, there is a new way forward for the United States to support this objective, and it will offer people of Iraq a reasonable opportunity to lead a better life than they did under Saddam Hussein. Our recommended course has shortcomings, as does each of the policy alternatives we have reviewed. We firmly believe, however, that it includes the best strategies and tactics available to us to positively influence the outcome in Iraq and the region. We believe that it could enable a responsible transition that will give the Iraqi people a chance to pursue a better future, as well as serving America’s interests and values in the years ahead.

There are then 79 recommendations in creating a new approach to Iraq. Here are the ones that I think are important some which stand of change of being implemented and others that have none.

There are a number or recommendations for engaging the countries around Iraq in helping to solve the problems in Iraq. The report says:

The United States must build a new international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. In order to foster such consensus, the United States should embark on a robust diplomatic effort to establish an international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region. This support structure should in-clude every country that has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors—Iran and Syria among them. Despite the well-known differences between many of these countries, they all share an interest in avoiding the horrific consequences that would flow from a chaotic Iraq, particularly a humanitarian catastrophe and regional destabilization.

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 very obvious and very hard to do much about. But it should be tried. In fact it should have been tried once the was in Lebanon was over. I read yesterday that Secretary Rice will head to the region next year. Why not now? The one thing about all of this is time is running out. Doesn’t anyone get that? The president is going to read these reports and then make a decision on what the new policy will be before Christmas. We need to get our collective asses in gear. My feeling is it is only going to take one more big event like what happened on Thanksgiving and it’s over. All our plans will be meaningless than. MOVE MOVE MOVE NOW!!

The main upshot of this is this:

Dealing with Iran and Syria is controversial. Nevertheless, it is our view that in diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differ-ences consistent with its own interests. Accordingly, the Sup-port Group should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.

There are four different recommendations on this. Bush’s response comes from the Washington Post: [Bush] repeated his refusal to talk with Iran and Syria unless Tehran suspends its uranium-enrichment program, Damascus stops interfering in Lebanon and both drop their support for terrorist groups. “The truth of the matter is that these countries have now got the choice to make,” Bush said. “If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it’s easy: Just make some decisions that will lead to peace, not to conflict.”

There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 com-mitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and particularly Syria—which is the principal transit point for shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, and which sup-ports radical Palestinian groups.

Can Iraq be solved without dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yes you might be able to do that. But effort has to made to solve the situation in that other part of the middle east. If an effort is made and hopefully some progress made it can help show that the US is an honest broker in the are. Most importantly that it didn’t invade Iraq just for the oil.

RECOMMENDATION 18: It is critical for the United States to provide additional political, economic, and military sup-port for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq.

The forgotten war. The taliban is coming back. The poppy trade is on the rise. We seem to have forgotten the first war we started in the region. The war that most of the world thought the US had a right to wage.

The next section deals with helping the Iraqis themselves:

The most important issues facing Iraq's future are now the responsibility of Iraq’s elected leaders. Because of the security and assistance it provides, the United States has a significant role to play. Yet only the government and people of Iraq can make and sustain certain decisions critical to Iraq’s future.

It should be unambiguous that continued U.S. political, military, and economic support for Iraq depends on the Iraqi government’s demonstrating political will and making substantial progress toward the achievement of mile-stones on national reconciliation, security, and governance. The transfer of command and control over Iraqi security forces units from the United States to Iraq should be influenced by Iraq’s performance on milestones.

RECOMMENDATION 21: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of mile-stones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or eco-nomic support for the Iraqi government.

Ok how does this one work. If you don’t make progress we'll reduce our aid to Iraq. Then what? There’s a laundry list of goals: approval of the de-baathification law, approval of the militia law, approval of amnesty agreement etc. There are also deadlines associated with each of these. I just don’t see what pulling our aid gets us. Let’s say the Iraqi government just doesn’t want to do these things or can’t do these things. Maliki has had little interest in taking on Sadr. In fact it almost looks like Sadr is calling the shots. Like I said I don’t see how this one gets us anywhere.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

This should never have happened in the first place. The US should have determined who the real bad guys were and gotten them out of the government and the armed forces. Those that were left could have been used to stabilize the country. But from the genius of Ambassador Bremer we got rid of all those people. Once again a little historical perspective would have been helpful. After World War II we dealt with many Nazi in Germany. We needed them to keep the country going. And we dealt with some pretty bad Nazi. We could have done the same thing in Iraq. In the government a huge amount of institutional knowledge was lost because of this stupid stupid policy.

RECOMMENDATION 35: The United States must make ac-tive efforts to engage all parties in Iraq, with the exception of al Qaeda. The United States must find a way to talk to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and militia and insurgent leaders.

RECOMMENDATION 36: The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities, as outlined in the New Diplomatic Offensive above. It should press religious leaders inside and outside Iraq to speak out on behalf of peace and reconciliation.

This seems a little pie in the sky. Sistani seems to have washed his hands of the whole mess and Sadr is well a terrorist. I suppose at this point in time it is worth trying anything. But will they have any influence to control what’s happening on the ground in Iraq. It almost seems that events now have a life of their own.

The report then details how outside organizations can help with the internal situation in Iraq specifically in the need to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate militia members into society (now doesn’t that sound like a fun job to have). The international community has shown little or no interest in helping out. The main thing they point out that it is not safe for them to be there. But if these organizations were there they might help improve the overall security in the country. Again a chicken and egg proposition. You can’t blame these organizations for not wanting to send their people into harms way especially now since the country looks like it is falling apart. Also this would have been a good strategy say a year ago. Part of the problem is the start up time involved in getting people on the ground; it might just take too long.

Section 3 deals with security and military forces. Here are some excerpts from the report on the subject

The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations.

One of the most important elements of our support would be the imbedding of substantially more U.S. military personnel in all Iraqi Army battalions and brigades, as well as within Iraqi companies.

While these efforts are building up, and as additional Iraqi brigades are being deployed, U.S. combat brigades could begin to move out of Iraq. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.

I have a great many questions on this. Who protects those Americans embedded in the Iraqi units? Do we trust the Iraqis? There have been a couple of reports on the news about American troops saying they don’t trust the Iraqi troops. That they are not really ready to pull their full weight. How does having more trainers make the Iraqis any more ready? It also seems a rather short period of time to bring them up to speed. But of course it would be in time for the presidential election.

Section 4 deals with the police.

The problems in the Iraqi police and criminal justice system are profound. The ethos and training of Iraqi police forces must support the mission to “protect and serve” all Iraqis. Today, far too many Iraqi police do not embrace that mission, in part because of problems in how reforms were organized and implemented by the Iraqi and U.S. governments.

The United States has been more successful in training the Iraqi Army than it has the police.

I don’t even know where to start on this one. That is scary on just so many levels. The main point here is the training of the police has been done by the wrong people. The Defense Department has been doing the training of the police. The recommendation is for the US Department of Justice to take over the training. Why wasn’t this done a long time ago.

The final sections deal with the oil sector, US economic assistance and budge prepartion and review. One of the thing the report mentions is : Experts estimate that 150,000 to 200,000—and perhaps as many as 500,000—barrels of oil per day are being stolen. Wow.

So what to think of this 96 page document.

I’m going to mull it some but here are a quick few impressions.

What took so long? I know the answer to this the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize what was really going on in Iraq as opposed to it Pollyanna approach.

Why wasn’t something like this done before the invasion with scenarios from best to worse case.

The options presented on what to do in Iraq are not all that new. The options have just been all gathered and put into one place.

Is this the panacea it was presented as in some places? No it is not.

It does essential say the Bush approach has failed and that something new must be done. The options are not all that rosy. I fear that the time for Washington to influence what is going on on the ground in Iraq may have passed. Passed because of the terrible decisions made by the Bush administration.

Before anything else can happen before anything can be move forward, Bush and his administration has to really admit that they screwed up in Iraq. So far that does not seem to be the case.

We’ll see what happens in the following weeks. But the most important thing that must be realized no matter what course is taken that time is very very short.

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