We're probably not going to get the Baker Report for a while. However, that's no reason not to take a peek at the working papers being used by the think tank that's feeding the Baker Commission its information.
...The commission is headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, a close friend of the Bush family, and former Indiana Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, who also cochaired the 9/11 Commission, and is being coordinated through the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a government-funded think tank.
Saddle up. Lock and load. :)
Real Quick: What You're Gonna Read
- What the Iraq Study Group's Doing - Talking with hundreds and hundreds of People Who Matter, namely American decisionmaking elites and, in my opinion, more focused on manufacturing consensus to do what comes naturally to American decisionmaking elites, namely damage control vis a vis Iraq and save as much face as possible while doing so.
- What the Pentagon's Doing - In my opinion, a parallel of the civilian process above: distancing themselves from accountability for a badly-chosen mission. Being, officially, but an instrument of public policy, the top brass have more branch to hold the weight of their BS. That, and this is something the military's been through before; they're not about to take the blame for Iraq going pear-shaped.
- What Iraq's Neighbors are Doing - Positioning themselves as friends of Iraq, mostly. All told, Turkey, Iran and Syria appear to be going out of their way to establish strong, cordial and mutually-advantageous bilateral relations with the Iraqi central government. All three appear supportive of their being an Iraqi central government. The Turks in particular are most insistent on this point.
- First Scenario: The Long Slog to Overcome Ethnic and Sectarian Politics - Basically, it's Stay the Course made to work. (It's very optimistic.)
- Second: Ethnic-Sectarian Politics Derail the Political Process - Reads like reality.
- Third: Descent into Hell - In parts, counter-intuitive. The militias gain strategically and de facto political power. Iran backs a Sistani successor, supports the rise of a "Shiastan" in the south. Turkey, which despite grumblings enjoys brisk trade with the Iraqi Kurds, attains assurances to its liking and sponsors a virtually-sovereign Kurdistan. The Jordanians and Sauds weigh in as protectors of the beleagured Sunni Iraqis. This could happen peaceably enough; the official scenario predicts a meltdown, specifically, Iran and Saudi Arabia going at it over dominance of the region.
- Fourth: Neighboring Helping Hands. Iran is quietly encouraged to back out of direct involvement in Iraqi politics and sponsorship of pro-Iranian militias within the Shia community. The Sunni Arab states bankroll consolidation of central authority and, this is key, a Shia-Sunni reconciliation...which would be a huge watershed event in Islam. With sectarian tensions defused and local machinery and means in place to assure central Iraqi authority, the Americans peel out.
- "Lebanonization" - Iran basically takes over as peacekeeper and kingmaker in Iraq, an open secret that is regardless unacknowledged as even existing by the United States or the Iraqi political parties.
- Throw All The Ingredients Into A Big Pot O Stew - The Conclusion! The Wrap! The Long Goodbye!
So, with that....
First, Some Overview on the Iraq Study Group's Mission
Over the past year, the group’s panelists have met, interviewed, or consulted with hundreds of high-ranking current and former officials, most of them in the United States or Iraq, as well as senior military officers, nongovernmental organization leaders, and academics. They have consulted foreign policy experts ranging from former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. They have interviewed members of President Bush’s cabinet, including the president and vice president, the administration's top ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Iraqi leaders of all sectarian stripes, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Baker also reportedly met in September with Iran's UN ambassador, Javad Zarif, at his New York residence for a three-hour discussion focusing on Iraq, and members of the ISG repeatedly contacted Syria's Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha. The purpose of this research, according to the USIP's website, is to provide a nonpartisan, forward-leaning assessment of the situation in Iraq and offer strategic advice to U.S. policymakers.
Short form: Interviews of decisionmaking elites of various backgrounds, with a heavy weighting in public and defense policy realms, and American ones, at that. This is a splendid means of deriving consensus among elites, especially American elites, for the express objective of providing, once more with feelng, forward-looking advice to U.S. policymakers.
Here's my read on it: From start to finish, the Baker Commission will be a of, by, for Americans process, using of, by, for American assumptions, perspectives, supporting authority and corroborating evidence, generating of, by, for American policy prescriptions.
And they may even turn out to be very good solutions for Iraq, too.
The Problem Being: Baker's Not The Only Game in Town
The Pentagon disclosed the existence of its own assessment this past Monday, glibly called the "Go Big", "Go Long", or "Go Home" Plan. There's not a whole lot of meat to it: Either the United States sends even more troops for a short while, sticks it out (read: stays the course) for a longer while, or packs it in. That's how the Pentagon (read: General Pace) is framing this discussion.
As to what to call this plan, one insider referred to it as "Go Big But Short While Transitioning to Go Long". According to Ricks' sources, one of the downsides is that some in Iraq might see the hybrid plan as "a way for the United States to moonwalk out of Iraq -- that is, to imitate singer Michael Jackson's trademark move of appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward."
From where I'm sitting, it looks like Pace, at least, represents an army that is distancing itself from any blame for defeat. True to tell, it's not a battlefield solution that Iraq needs. Warmaking-wise, no array of armies on the planet can stand up against the American juggernaut. Peacemaking-wise, this is not General MacArthur's army. It just isn't. This far into the occupation of Japan,
The British Aren't Waiting
The British Foreign Secretary has given a roadmap for the eventual pullout of British troops from Iraq. This involves the handover of the remaining provinces under British control to Iraqi responsibility.
British forces would initially withdraw completely from patrolling leaving the Iraqis with day-to-day responsibility for security.
The very significant new factor in today's annoucement that the second city of Basra is likely to be handed over in Spring next year.
here's the BBC link, again compliments of londonbear.
Forgot to mention - Iran's not waiting, either
I'm not usually in the habit of linking LA Times editorials, but this one starts out with a spot-on remark
IRAN HAS INVITED TOP Iraqi and Syrian leaders to Tehran this weekend, but there are no Americans on the guest list. The omission is hardly a snub — U.S. diplomats probably wouldn't have much fun there anyway — but the talks underline the absurdity of the White House position, which is essentially to wait for a bipartisan commission to give it permission to sit down with some friends and enemies. Regional discussions about the future of Iraq are already happening. The U.S. should send out some invitations of its own.
I wouldn't say permission, so much as political cover to make a brave but patently necessarily move: normalization (not reconciliation, normalization!) of relations with Iran. That is, if we are serious participants in a safer, more free, more prosperous Iraq.
For more on the summit, Visit Marks Talabani's First Visit to Tehran as President
The money quote, though has to be this:
"We feel that Iran is a very important neighbor," said Iraqi government spokesman Ali Aldabbagh.
"We would like to have a better relationship with Iran, and we don't want for Iraq to pay for the tension in the relations between Iran and the United States."
And neither is Turkey...
[State Minister] Tuzmen said that Habur border crossing is proved to be inadequate as regards the volume of trade and traffic between the two countries, and therefore two more border passes would be opened as soon as possible.
Tuzmen added that Turkey will organize a conference on oil and gas in 2007 in cooperation with the Iraqi Oil Ministry.
Meanwhile, al-Shahristani said that Iraq has taken measures to ensure the security of the (Kirkuk-Yumurtalik oil) pipeline, and started to implement alternative pipeline projects.
Referring to rich natural gas reserves in Iraq, al-Shahristani stated that this natural gas will be shipped to European markets via Turkey.
So much for American contractors.
Namely, Kurdish separatists in either Turkey or Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey and Iraq have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in fighting against terrorism, including Turkish rebels.
Erdogan made the remarks at a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki, who arrived in Ankara Thursday morning for a two-day state visit to Turkey.
"During our meeting, we ... reviewed measures to be taken against the terrorist organization," said Erdogan, referring to the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), an separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara.
On his part, al-Maliki said, "We will not allow any formation to jeopardize security of neighbor countries."
As for how seriously the Turks take this particular issue, I'll have to draw on some earlier work: They care to the tune of having 250,000 troops on the northern border of Iraq, ready to pounce if the Kurds so much as think about independence. As for the Americans being able to stop such an invasion: Sure. The US could stop the Turks, but lose control of Iraq in the bargain.
Iraq restored diplomatic relations with Syria as part of a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq. Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to a weekend summit in Tehran _ an invitation thought to be an attempt by Tehran to upstage expected U.S. moves to enlist Syria and Iran in tackling the chaos in Iraq.
Which is to say
There are a lot of dogs in this hunt, not just an effectively homogeneous pool of American elite decisionmakers.
Now, we'll take a peek at those scenarios, what appears to be the elite consensus on each, and where such consensus just isn't up to specs, that is, if we are discussing reality on the ground as opposed to domestic American political will.
To Be Continued
I have been advised by peer review that I may, just may, have a tendency to write diaries that are a bit long for one reading.
So I'm going to give you guys a chance to get a word in edgewise. :)