December 6, 2006

Skip the Dicta; Read the Recommendations - Part Uno

Hatched by Dafydd

Ah, I think I know how the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Survey Group managed to get unanimous agreement for a report that is, on the whole, nowhere near as bad or dangerous as we were led to believe. The members clearly cut a deal between themselves:

  • The Democrats on the panel got to write all the nasty, Bush-bashing spin and hype of the introductory "Assessment" section of the report (and script the press conference) -- which was the role they relished and had demanded from the git go;
  • The Republicans wrote the actual recommendations in section II, "the Way Forward" -- that is, the operational part of the report.

(In legal terms, the Democrats wrote the dicta, but the GOP wrote the holdings.)

Thus, the first part is full of snide and arrogant analysis of how "bleak" and "dire" the situation is, which will allow perpetually backward-looking Democrats to spend the next two years rattling on about how terrible it was to invade Iraq in the first place. But the fairly open-ended and helpful recommendations in Section II are not too onerous on their face, and many are readily adaptable to the strategy of winning in Iraq that will come from the Pentagon group headed by Gen. Peter Pace, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I leave the discussion of dicta to others (since that part really irritates me anyway); I'm more interested in what the ISG considers "the way forward," and how it can be achieved only through victory, not by the Democrats' dream of defeat, defeat, and more defeat.

A note on structure: as this post got very long (I read the entire report and discuss most of it), I'm splitting it into two posts that will be posted more or less simultaneously. This is Part Uno, as you have doubtless already gathered.

Part Zwei will follow. Again, this is unlikely to shock many of you.

"Buckle your seat belts, gentlemen; it's going to be a bumpy night!"

The "diplomatic offensive"

Let's start with recommendation 1 of the Iraq Study Group's report (actually, the first two, since the second is really part of the first), just to get a flavor of what we're dealing with and how we can work with it for victory. (Don't worry, Big Lizards is not going to plough rigidly and lugubriously through every, last one of the 79 recommendations.)

RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States, working with the Iraqi government, should launch the comprehensive New Diplomatic Offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq and of the region. This new diplomatic offensive should be launched before December 31, 2006.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:

i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq’s neighbors.

iii. Secure Iraq’s borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.

iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.

v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.

vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.

vii. Validate Iraq’s legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.

viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.

x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.

Admittedly, this is mostly nonsense on stilts; neither Iran nor Syria has any interest in any of these specific initiatives. But the ISG is correct that Iran has its own problems with disunity: the Arab, Azeri, and Kurdish populations of Iran are always in danger of trying to break away... and that, of course, is a good example of a "disincentive" we can offer Iran to get them to back off from supporting Muqtada Sadr and other Iraqi Shia: we let them know that if they continue trying to destabilize Iraq, perhaps we should begin helping Kurds and Azeri in Iran that are interested in learning more about democracy, freedom -- and independence. (You'll read about "disincentives" later in this post; just keep this one in mind.)

But of course, all depends upon who, exactly, is tasked on the American side to deal with these negotiations. As this is a special envoy, not a permanent position, it's important to remember that the appointment does not require Senate confirmation.

Thus, since one of our finest ambassadors is currently at liberty, I strongly urge that the head of the diplomatic "offensive" be Ambassador John Bolton. As we certainly also need someone with extensive military experience in the region, Bolton's chief military attaché could be Gen. John Abizaid or Gen. Casey, both of whom are near the end of their current tours, and each of whom needs a political tour in order to burnish his credentials for an eventual shot at being the next Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

With the negotiations in the hands of Bolton (or someone like him), I would not worry about this "diplomatic offensive."

"Dealing" with Iran (oh, and Syria)

We skip many recommendations, all of which center on sundry "groups" that we can set up so that Bolton (or whoever) doesn't have to shuttle between different cities to carry out these negotiations. Let's jump right to the first really controversial one: "dealing with Iran and Syria," as the report puts it.

(Dealing? As in, Monty Hall and Let's Make a Deal? I doubt that's in the cards.)

Here is the first part that you're not likely to hear from talk radio and maybe not even on some other blogs:

The Study Group recognizes that U.S. relationships with Iran and Syria involve difficult issues that must be resolved. Diplomatic talks should be extensive and substantive, and they will require a balancing of interests. The United States has diplomatic, economic, and military disincentives available in approaches to both Iran and Syria. However, the United States should also consider incentives to try to engage them constructively, much as it did successfully with Libya.

What is a "disincentive?" Well, the dictionary says it's "something that prevents or discourages action; a deterrent." That is, we say to Iran, "if you continue supplying men, material, munitions, and training to Iraqi Shia, we're going to do the following horrible things: A, B, C..."

(For example, do you recall that bit -- I warned you it would be on the test -- about us threatening to encourage Arab, Azeri, or Kurdish minorities within Iran to break away if the Iranians continue their assault on Iraq? That is a perfect example of the kind of "disincentives" we can use.)

I'll bet you hadn't heard that that was in the report, did you? Not if all you did was listen to talk radio and read most other blogs.

From the sentence structure, it's quite clear that the ISG expects disincentives, not incentives, to be the default mode: they caution President Bush not to use disincentives alone... hey, look, here are some incentives you can also use!

Whether or not that's what the ISG had in mind, that is what they wrote: and it's perfectly reasonable for Bush to take it that way and say, "look, here I am doing just what the commission recommended: giving a disincentivizing ultimatum to Iran and Syria."

The list of specific steps that Iran can take aren't bad:

  • "Iran should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq."
  • "Iran should make clear its support for the territorial integrity of Iraq as a unified state, as well as its respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its government."
  • "Iran can use its influence, especially over Shia groups in Iraq, to encourage national reconciliation."
  • "Iran can also, in the right circumstances, help in the economic reconstruction of Iraq."

Only the last one is problematical; and even there, the weasel-words "right circumstances" allows Bush to put that last one off until the right circumstances prevail: that is, until Iran has become a democratic state like Iraq.

F--- the Jews

Naturally, the ISG being co-charied by James Baker, due deference must be paid to Baker's "poor King Charles' head," his bête noir: Israel.

The title of this section of the post refers to Baker's infamous (alleged) comment to "a colleague" -- later identified as Jack Kemp, I believe -- during a conversation about Israel while Baker was George Herbert Walker Bush's secretary of state: "f--- the Jews, they didn't vote for us anyway!" Baker denies he ever said it.

This entire section is imminently ignorable, as the five recommendations it contains all boil down to nothing beyond "the unconditional calling and holding of meetings."

Hear hear! Have some more meetings. Have as many meetings as we can stuff into a fiscal year. If the Palestinians and the Syrians remain intrasigent, refusing to rein in Hamas and Hezbollah, then Bush (and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert -- say, shouldn't Israel pass a law barring anyone named "Ehud" from holding public office?) can legitimately and honorably say "we followed those B-H recommendations to the letter: we unconditionally called and held several meetings, by gum.

Now can we get on with it?


The ISG says to send more troops and money, amounts unspecified. Any objections?

Iraq milestones and suchlike

Note the great specificity of the next set of recommendations for Iraq itself to achieve:

  • Recommendation 19: "[T]there must be action by the Iraqi government to make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones.... [T]the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed."
  • Recommendation 20: If Iraq "demonstrates political will" and "substantial progress" towards these unspecified milestones, we should "continue political, military, and economic support for the Iraqi government."
  • Recommendation 21: If they blow us off, we should "reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government."
  • Recommendation 22: Ritual formula: we should say we don't "seek" military bases in Iraq; but if they ask us to keep a presence there permanently, we should consider it, just as we would "in the case of any other government." (In other words, they have to ask; we can only nudge them, not order them.)
  • Recommendation 23: "The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil."

While the ISG didn't enunciate its own set of milestones, it more or less accepts (recommendation 25) the milestones suggested by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself. It's a laundry list, some elements of which are easily achievable ("approval of the Provincial Election Law and setting an election date"); others are ambitious but possible ("provincial elections" by June); while some are dubious, to say the least ("Iraqi control of provinces" by September). You can read them for yourself; they're on page 63 of the report (page 81 in the PDF).

Come together

The longest non-diplomatic subsection of the operative section is all about achieving "national reconciliation" in Iraq; this is divided into what the Iraqis need to do, and what we need to do. Most of the recommendations here are obvious, common-sense stuff. But here are a few that might provoke some interest...

Right off, the commission makes another bold and unexpected statement, sparking great rejoicing:

U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence -- or even contain it -- if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.

Um... okay.

Recommendation 27 says that de-Baathification has gone far enough; with the exception of top Saddam Hussein officials, Iraq should start letting people back into low levels of government even if they were members of the Baath Party under Hussein.

I actually have no problem with this; Hussein completely controlled Iraq for 24 years, and the Baathists ran the joint for the previous 16 years before that. Thus, for forty years, the only way to get ahead in Iraq was to join the Baath Party, which was the only legal political party anyway. It's hardly surprising that scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, policemen, and military personnel became "Baathists."

To permanently and forever exclude these people from participating in the recreation of Iraq is unjust; but much more important, it's profoundly foolish ("it is worse than a crime; it is a blunder," as Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe said of the execution of the Duc d'Enghien). Heck, if we could put ex-Nazi Wernher von Braun in charge of the United States rocket and missile program, then surely the Iraqis can allow ex-Baathist scientists to work in the Ministry of Technology, or whatever they call the thing.

I'm glad the Republican Guards dispersed, and I wish we had done so in a more systematic way with the national police. But that was then, this is now: many members of the New Iraqi Army are military veterans, and many cops were cops before. Some of these people cause problems, especially in the police, which were never properly purged... but that's the price you pay for revolution, especially when externally applied.

(The ISG actually has a really interesting idea for the Iraqi national police forces; but that has its own subhead in the next post.)

The reality is that the Iraqis need certain people, even if they were Baathists in another life. An excellent step to make this process much less threatening would be to carry out the execution of Saddam Hussein as expected in January; since Hussein was the Baath Party from 1979 onward, and is thus the only embodiment of the party that most ex-Baathists can remember, Hussein's execution will make him "the death of the party."

Recommendation 28 warns against distributing oil revenues by "region," which is code for religious sect: if revenues were disbursed according to region, then the Kurds and Shia would get it all, and the Sunni -- in the middle region, which has no oil fields -- would get bubkes. That's hardly the way to bring Sunnis into the fold! Again, I think we all agree that cutting the Sunnis out of all oil revenue is a prescription for civil war.

To be continued next post...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 6, 2006, at the time of 8:04 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Imagodei

Actually, I'd like to see more Ehuds in Jewish politics, given that the first Ehud in Jewish history was a practitioner of rather direct diplomacy in defense of the Hebrew nation (i.e. he assassinated a head of state and led a revolt). Israel needs more old-style Ehuds, I think, and less of the new.

The above hissed in response by: Imagodei [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2006 7:43 AM

The following hissed in response by: Major Mike


Before I start to knee-jerk react to anything, which is an almost daily occurence, I drop in on Big Lizards for your unique perspective. As usual, I am thankful I did.

These are excellent analyses, and my only regret is that you are such a unique voice. I wish there were more of you (an Instalanche is deserved), and I will try in my own (unfortunately insignificant) way to spread your shining uncommon common sense.

The above hissed in response by: Major Mike [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2006 4:08 PM

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