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Talabani Rejects Iraq Study Group Report
By Paula Wolfson
White House
10 December 2006
Wolfson report - Download 349k audio clip
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The leaders of the Iraq Study Group are defending their report, following new criticism from Baghdad. At the same time, the Bush administration is stepping up its own review of its Iraq strategy. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson has details.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani gestures as he talks to reporters in his office in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, 10 Dec. 2006<br />
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani gestures as he talks to reporters in his office in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, 10 Dec. 2006
On the day Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the chairmen of the 10-member panel went on U.S. television to defend their recommendations.

In interviews with four American television networks, Republican James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton, said their proposals present a way forward for Iraq.

Baker, a former secretary of state, told CNN's Late Edition that something must be done.

"We say that a change in the primary mission of our forces, an enhanced and more vigorous diplomatic offensive, and conditionality by way of our aid to the Iraqi government can make a difference," said James Baker. "It can help us succeed."

 

 

Iraq Study Group co-chairs James A. Baker (r) and Lee Hamilton 
Iraq Study Group co-chairs James A. Baker (r) and Lee Hamilton 
He spoke just hours after the Iraqi president - an ethnic Kurd - called the commission's report unfair and unjust. Mr. Talabani said the recommendations are an insult to the Iraqi people.

Hamilton, a former congressman who once chaired the House International Relations Committee, said the reason for such criticism is simple. He told CNN some individual leaders in Iraq are looking at the report and seeing the situation solely through the perspective of their own ethnic groups.

"If that is the perspective that these leaders are going to adopt, then there will be no unified Iraq, and there will be no United States presence there in a pretty short period of time," said Lee Hamilton. "We want a unified Iraq. We are prepared to put a lot of resources into it to get that, but these kinds of statements make it very difficult for us to do it."

President Bush has promised to take the Iraq Study Group's recommendations very seriously. But he has also stressed that the administration is conducting its own policy reviews at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House National Security Council, and all will be given equal weight.

On the CBS television program Face the Nation, Baker noted that his panel of foreign policy experts is the only bipartisan entity to put a list of recommendations on the president's desk.

"I think the situation is such that politics as usual is not going to come up with the answer," he said. "There has to be a unity of the American people and a unity of the country behind an approach, if it is going to work."

The president will meet with his foreign policy team at the State Department on Monday. Before the week is out, he will also hold consultations with officials at the Pentagon and military commanders in Iraq. Aides say he plans to deliver a speech to the American people on possible changes in U. S. strategy before Christmas.

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We've Been Talking
It's a myth that the U.S. hasn't already engaged Syria and Iran.

BY JOEL HIMELFARB
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

As Washington waits breathlessly for luminaries like Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton, Vernon Jordan, Sandra Day O'Connor and the rest of the Iraq Study Group to tell us what to do about Iraq, it's past time to knock down a myth that appears to be driving the panel's deliberations: the notion that the Bush administration's refusal to talk with Iran and Syria is the reason for our inability to stabilize Iraq.

The premise--pushed by Democratic politicians and others--is absolutely false. The people pushing this, among them Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, seem intent on sandbagging President Bush into negotiating from a position of weakness over some form of "grand bargain" with some of our most deadly enemies. But the fact is that plenty of engagement has already been taking place. For one thing, Syria retains an embassy in Washington; and the United States has one in Damascus. As for Iran, there are plenty of opportunities for the United States to talk with it in forums such as the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, where both states are represented. And America has been trying for decades to resolve differences diplomatically with both regimes. Since the September 11 attacks, Washington has held discussions with Tehran and Damascus on a wide array of issues, including matters such as Afghanistan; al Qaeda's international terror networks; Iraq; Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The real issue today is that the Bush administration, which has been repeatedly burned in recent years when it tried to engage these governments, prefers discretion and holding lower-level talks. These regimes insist on holding well-publicized summits that yield them P.R. windfalls without forcing them to substantively change their policies. The fact is that, since the Carter's presidency, U.S. administrations of both parties have tried unsuccessfully to persuade these governments to end their support for terrorism and their efforts to sabotage Washington's efforts to facilitate peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Following Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic November 1977 peace mission to Israel, for example, the Carter administration attempted to persuade Syrian President Hafez Assad (father of the current Syrian strongman Bashar Assad) to join the Middle East peace process. Assad responded by making Damascus the headquarters of a rejection front dominated by the pro-Soviet terrorist groups like George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

In 1982 and 1983, veteran U.S. diplomats Philip Habib and Morris Draper conducted months of arduous shuttle diplomacy in an effort to end the violence in Lebanon--a civil war that began in 1975, followed by Israel's 1982 military campaign to uproot Palestinian terrorist groups based there. Syria did everything it could to sabotage efforts to stabilize Lebanon: It likely facilitated the September 1982 assassination of Lebanese leader Pierre Gemayel and undoubtedly assisted the rise of the Iranian-backed Shi'ite terror organization Hezbollah, whose "credits" included the October 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 U.S. servicemen. And for good measure, Syria waged an intimidation campaign that forced the Lebanese government to abrogate the U.S.-brokered May 1983 peace treaty it signed with Israel less than a year later.

In recent days, Mr. Baker, arguing the importance of talking to people we dislike, cites as an example his own shuttle diplomacy effort while serving as secretary of state in 1991, when he succeeded in cajoling Assad into participating in the Madrid conference on Middle East peace. He said that, even though his first 15 visits to Damascus did not succeed in persuading Assad to participate, the 16th try was a charm: The Syrian strongman showed up in Madrid after all. But what exactly did all of Mr. Baker's hard work achieve? Less than two years later, after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat embarked on the Oslo "peace process" at the White House with President Clinton looking on, Syria embarked on a campaign to sabotage any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement by supporting terrorist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

During the 1990s, Rabin and subsequent Israeli leaders tried to negotiate with Assad an agreement in which Israel would return the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in a defensive war, to Syria in exchange of a peace settlement. But Assad blocked any real progress by refusing to negotiate seriously over security arrangements with Israel. In May 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon, whereupon Syria responded by aiding the Hezbollah buildup on Israel's northern border that led to war on July 12, 2006, after Hezbollah crossed the border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

As all of its recent predecessors did with Hafez Assad, who died in June 2000 , the Bush administration has also repeatedly tried and failed to persuade his son and successor strongman, President Bashar Assad, to be more cooperative. David Schenker, who served as the Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestinian affairs adviser in the office of the Secretary of Defense from 2002 to 2006, notes that Washington sent at least five high-level delegations to Syria from 2001 until the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005 in an effort "to cajole Bashar Assad to change his unhelpful behavior."

The delegations dealt with issues such as Syria's efforts to destabilize Iraq; its continued interference in Lebanon; and its support for Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. All of these good-faith efforts failed. Perhaps the best known was Secretary of State Colin Powell's May 2003 visit to Damascus--one month after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and at the height of American power in the Bush era. Assad agreed to Powell's demand that he stop subverting Iraq, but once Powell left, the Syrian dictator continued business as usual.

If this is the way he behaved toward an American secretary of state at that time, how can we seriously believe things will change for the better now, given all of the problems the U.S. military is facing in Iraq; the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan; and the success of Hezbollah and its allies in bringing Lebanon to the verge of catastrophe.

If anything, good-faith U.S. efforts to reach out to the Islamic Republic of Iran dating back to the Carter Administration have been an even more abysmal failure. In the wake of the February 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a U.S. ally, the Carter Administration tried to reach out to establish a dialogue with the new Iranian government. So, on Nov. 1, 1979, National Security Adviser Brzezinski met in Algiers with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, a relatively powerless Iranian "moderate."

In response, student radicals seized the American Embassy in Tehran, beginning the hostage crisis that continued until the day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president. The students received backing from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had little use for Bazargan and was intent on humiliating the "Great Satan." President Reagan--a political giant whose successes included ending the Cold War--fared little better in dealing with the Iranians, as evidence by the failed effort to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages captured by Iran's Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon.

Another major U.S. effort to talk with the Iranians occurred in 1998, after the election of Mohammed Khatami, who talked elliptically of dialogue with the West. In response, the Clinton Administration began to back away from the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, legislation imposing sanctions against foreign companies that invest in the Iranian oil and gas industries. Scholars Patrick Clawson and Michael Rubin note in their book "Eternal Iran" that the softening of the U.S. position averted a crisis over a French investment of $2 billion in Iran's South Pars oil field. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also apologized for the U.S. role in the 1953 coup that brought the Shah to power. And the Clinton administration, according to FBI Director Louis Freeh, dragged its feet in investigating the June 1996 bombing of a U.S. housing facility in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 American servicemen were killed, apparently by terrorists supported by Iran. All of this came to naught, as the Iranians demanded reparations from the United States and the Ayatollah Khamenei denounced rapprochement with Washington as "treason."

One area where the two countries were able to cooperate was Afghanistan, where both Washington and Tehran opposed the Taliban regime before and after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But Washington dramatically scaled back cooperation after Israel's January 2002 apprehension of the Karine-A, a ship carrying 50 tons of Iranian-supplied weapons to Arafat's Palestinian Authority. President Bush's inclusion of Iran in the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address came just weeks after the Karine-A discovery. In May 2003, Washington reversed its willingness to cooperate with Iran after learning that it was harboring al Qaeda terrorists, including some who were implicated in a bombing in Saudi Arabia that month in which eight Americans were killed. In March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, responding to European calls for a dialogue with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, announced that Washington would end its opposition to Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization and an array of other steps in an effort to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear weapons activities. Iran responded with defiance--and for good measure, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected last year, has made statements denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel's destruction a regular staple of his rhetoric.

Based on the historical record, the advocates of U.S. engagement with these regimes are delusional. The record, from Carter to Bush II, strongly suggests that neither regime has any interest in cooperating with us in Iraq, and are more likely than not to view the Carter-Brzezinski-Hagel approach as a demonstration of American weakness.

Mr. Himelfarb is the assistant editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times.

The Weekly Standard



Conclusion First, Debate Afterwards
Recently in The Weekly Standard:
The stacked Baker-Hamilton Commission.

by Michael Rubin
10/30/2006, Volume 012, Issue 07


POLICYMAKERS ARE ABUZZ with the explosive recommendations for U.S. policy toward Iraq soon to be released by the Baker-Hamilton Commission: Abandon democracy, seek political compromise with the Sunni insurgents, and engage Tehran and Damascus as partners to secure stability in their neighbor. While former secretary of state James Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton said they would withhold their report until after the elections on November 7 to avoid its politicization, they have discussed their findings with the press. On October 8, for example, Baker appeared on ABC's This Week, and the next day he discussed the group's findings with Charlie Rose. On October 12, both Baker and Hamilton appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Both men are master inside-the-Beltway operators. Rather than prime the debate, they sought to stifle it. While on March 15, 2006, Baker said, "Chairman Hamilton and I have the same objec tive . . . to make an honest assessment of where we are and how we go forward and take this issue to the extent that we can out of politics," both chairmen designed the commission to affirm preordained conclusions that are neither new nor wise.

Take the four subordinate expert working groups: Baker and Hamilton gerrymandered these advisory panels to ratify predetermined recommendations. While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.

Many appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for their hostility to President Bush's war on terrorism and emphasis on democracy. Raad Alkadiri, for example, has repeatedly defined U.S. motivation for Iraq's liberation as a grab for oil. Raymond Close, listed on the Iraq Study Group's website as a "freelance analyst," is actually a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which, in July 2003, called for Vice President Dick Cheney's resignation for an alleged conspiracy to distort intelligence, which they said had been uncovered by none other than Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The following summer, Close posited that "Bush and the neocons" had fabricated the charge "that the evil Iranian mullahs inspired and instigated the radical Shia Islamist insurgency." To Close, the problem was not Iranian training and supply of money and sophisticated explosives to terrorists, but rather neoconservatism.

Other experts include a plaintiff in the January 17, 2006, lawsuit against the National Security Agency for its no-warrant wiretap program and a think-tank analyst who had not traveled beyond the Green Zone on her only trip to Iraq in September 2003, but nonetheless demonstrated her open mind by declaring the Iraq endeavor a failure in an interview with a German magazine just days before the commission's inauguration.

Baker placed Chas Freeman, his former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, on the panel, despite Freeman's assertion, in the antiwar documentary Uncovered: The War in Iraq, that the Bush administration had fabricated its justifications for war. Why seek advice from an area specialist who has clearly crossed the line from analysis to conspiracy?

Even if the eight other commissioners--all distinguished retired gov ernment officials--approached their work with honesty, they had little opportunity to get an independent look at developments in Iraq. U.S. evaluations of Iraq have long suffered from an overemphasis on both PowerPoint presentations and conversations with a limited circle of Green Zone interlocutors. During the commission's three-day visit to Iraq, only former senator Charles Robb left the Green Zone, despite the embassy's willingness to facilitate excursions. Had commission members embedded with U.S. servicemen on patrol, each in a separate area of the country, they might have expanded their contacts, broadened their collective expertise, and gained access to unvarnished opinion.

Had they done so, they might not conclude that the solution in Iraq lies with further engagement of Iran and Syria. Rather than inject a "new approach" to U.S. strategy, the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendations resurrect the old. In May 2001, Hamilton co-chaired an Atlan tic Council study group that called on Washington to adopt a "new approach" to Iran centered on engagement with Tehran. And, in 2004, Baker-Hamilton Commission member Robert M. Gates co-chaired another study group that called for a "new approach" toward Iran consisting of engagement.

The problem is that this "new approach" hasn't been good for U.S. national security. After Secretary of State Madeleine Albright extended an olive branch to the Islamic Republic in March 2000, the Iranian leadership facilitated anti-U.S. terrorists. As the 9/11 Commission found, "There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers."

In the weeks prior to the Iraq war, Washington once again engaged Tehran. Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, who, at the time, was Bush's chief Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, solicited a noninterference pledge from Iran's U.N. ambassador in exchange for a U.S. pledge to bomb and blockade the Mujahedeen al-Khalq terrorist camp inside Iraq. Writing in Asharq Al-Awsat just after Saddam's fall, Ali Nourizadeh, known as the Bob Woodward of Iranian journalists for his connections to the ruling elite, described how, even as Washington kept its bargain, the Iranian leadership ordered its Qods Force, the Iranian equivalent of the Green Berets, to infiltrate Iraq with weapons, money, and other supplies. "According to a plan approved by the Revolutionary Guards command, the aim was to create a fait accompli," he wrote. Rather than send a diplomat to head its embassy in Baghdad, the Iranian government sent Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a Qods Force commander who was Tehran's former liaison to Hezbollah. Effective realism requires abandoning the utopian conviction that engagement always works and partners are always sincere.

While Baker and Hamilton themselves may be sincere in their convictions, conclusions absent acknowl edgment of historical context will backfire. In Iraq, perception trumps reality. Sunni insurgents, former military officers, and Shiite tribal leaders each voiced one common complaint in a meeting last month: They believe Washington is ready to hand primacy in Iraq over to Iran. "You have allowed the Iranians to rape us," a former general said. Just as Iraqis believe the coalition's failure to restore electricity to be deliberate--if NASA can land a man on the moon, who would believe that USAID cannot turn on the lights in Baghdad?--so Iraqis across the ethnic and sectarian divide are convinced the White House has blessed a paramount role for Iran. Why else would we allow Moktada al-Sadr and the Badr Corps to expand their influence unchecked? Such conspiracy theories may appear ridiculous to an American audience accustomed to government ineptitude, but in Iraq they have real consequences: If Washington has blessed Iranian ambitions in Iraq, then Washington is to blame for outrages perpetuated by Iranian militias.

When Rep. Frank R. Wolf conceived of the Iraq Study Group, he chose Baker and Hamilton to lead it in recognition of their extensive diplomatic experience. But it is this experience that may not only condemn the commission's recommendations to failure, but also further inflame Iraq. In the Middle East, Baker's legacy is twofold. As secretary of state, he presided over the 1989 Taif Accords, which ended Lebanon's civil war. By blessing Syrian military occupation, he sacrificed Lebanese independence on the altar of short-term pragmatism. Many Iraqis--Sunni elites and former officers especially--fear Washington may repeat the episode in their country. They fear Baker's cold realist calculations may surrender Iraq to Iranian suzerainty. While Americans may nonetheless welcome short-term calm, in terms of U.S. security, the Taif model failed: Damascus used its free hand to gut civil society and turn Lebanon into a safe haven for terror.

Baker's other legacy may be harder to shake: Iraqis remember him for his role in Operation Desert Storm. On February 15, 1991, President George H.W. Bush called upon Iraqis to "take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside." Iraqis did rise up, but Baker counseled U.S. forces to stand aside as Saddam turned his helicopter gunships on the rebellious Kurds and Shiites. Had more commission members exited the Green Zone, they might have found that among the greatest impediments U.S. forces and diplomats face in Iraq is the experience of betrayal that Baker imprinted on their country. Washington's adversaries have capitalized on this legacy. The foolishness of Iraqis' trusting Washington has been a constant theme in Iranian propaganda. Should the Baker-Hamilton Commission also recommend abandoning democracy--which the Shiites understand as their right to power--and urge a political accord with Sunni insurgents, they would push 16 million Iraqi Shiites beyond possibility of accord and into the waiting embrace of an Iranian regime that, paid militias aside, most Iraqis resent.

Iraq is a bipartisan problem. Regardless of the outcome of the 2006, and even 2008, elections, the legacy of Iraq is going to impact U.S. policy and security for years to come. It is unfortunate, then, that the commission has bypassed its responsibility to seek a new approach and instead has embraced the old.

Perhaps, rather than revert to the pre-9/11 habits of short-term accom modation and a belief that two oceans insulate the United States from the world, the commission should expand its mandate. Iraqis fleeing Saddam for the West have embraced democracy wherever they have settled, an indication that their culture is not to blame. Rather than preempt debate, fresh eyes might consider whether the deterioration in Iraq signals the failure of democracy or an inability to ensure the rule of law.

Rather than pretend the Iraq problem can be contained, they might consider whether it has suffered from an unwillingness to address provocations from beyond Iraq's borders. National security depends on dealing with the world we have, rather than the world diplomats construct with smoke and mirrors. Exit strategies might seem easy, but--like the Taif Accords and the failure to topple Saddam in 1991--they are irresponsible and replete with long-term consequences. What is needed in Iraq is reconsideration of the resources and parameters conducive to long-term victory, not a repeat of short-term solutions that will almost certainly fail.

Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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