Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fatuous in, fatuous out

Eliot Cohen in the WSJ Online has another take on the ISG report. The part of his piece that jumped out at me was this:

...A fatuous process yields, necessarily, fatuous results. "Iraq's neighbors are not doing enough to help Iraq achieve stability" -- a statement only somewhat ameliorated by the admission that some are even "undercutting stability," which sounds as though Syria and Iran were being downright rude, rather than providing indispensable assistance to those who have filled the burn wards of Walter Reed, the morgue in Baghdad, and the cemetery at Arlington. The selected remedy is, first and foremost, rather like the ISG's credo for its own functioning, consensus. "The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region," as if our chief failure with Bashar Assad or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lies with the hitherto unnoticed laziness or rhetorical ineptitude of our diplomats, or as though Europe, Saudi Arabia and Israel have not yet figured out that stability in Iraq is a good thing. "Syria should control its border" and "Iran should respect Iraq's sovereignty."

No kidding -- but who is going to make them? That perennial solution, "resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict," makes its appearance, including direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, but only with "those who accept Israel's right to exist." The report conveniently forgets that the elected leaders of Palestine do not, in fact, accept Israel's right to exist. And it also neglects the grim reality that one of the most terrible things about Gaza, and possibly the West Bank as well, is that no one, not even Hamas, is really in charge.

Part of Iran's price for easing up on us in Iraq is pretty clearly taking the heat off its nuclear program; the ISG recommends that that issue "should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany." Well, what deal should the U.S. be willing to cut on Iranian nuclear weapons? Do we think the Iranians would deliver? And what are the long-term consequences?

War, and warlike statecraft, is a hard business, and though this is supposed to be a report dominated by "realists," there is nothing realistic in failing to spell out the bloody deeds, grim probabilities and dismal consequences associated with even the best course of action...

Betsy Newmark summed it up well. "The commissions seems to have just decided how they would like Iran and Syria to behave in their fantasy world: not aid the insurgents in Iraq, stay out of Lebanon, not develop Iranian nuclear weapons, not attack Israel, the whole shebang of dream-world wishes about how some alternate universe Iranians and Syrians might want to behave. This is no way to win a war"

James v Neville

After reading the ISG report last night I couldn't help but think of the road to Munich in 1938. Apparently I was not alone in that thinking about how similar it seemed to the man of the hour Neville Chamberlain and his approach to dealing with the Czechoslovakian issue and what that led to. The idea of being able to sit down with our sworn enemies and expect them to cooperate in the stability of the region is on its face ludicrous. I was in the process of writing a fairly lengthy post about that aspect of the ISG report and then saw that somebody had already done it and done it better than I ever could. Jeff Jacoby, writing at has much to say and says it well.

Should the United States turn to Iran and Syria for help in reducing the violence bloodying Iraq? James Baker's Iraq Study Group, out this week with its well-leaked recommendations, thinks direct talks with Tehran and Damascus would be a fine idea. I think so too -- right after those governments switch sides in the global jihad.

As things stand now, however, negotiating with Iran and Syria over the future of Iraq is about as promising a strategy for preventing more bloodshed as negotiating with Adolf Hitler over the future of Czechoslovakia was in 1938. There were eminent "realists" then too, many of whom were gung-ho for cutting a deal with the Fuehrer. As Neville Chamberlain set off on the diplomatic mission that would culminate in Munich, William Shirer recorded in *The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,* Britain's poet laureate, John Masefield, composed a paean in his honor. When the negotiations were done and Czechoslovakia had been dismembered, the prime minister was hailed as a national hero. FDR saluted him in a two-word telegram: "Good man." The Nobel Committee received not one, not two, but 10 nominations proposing Chamberlain for the 1939 peace prize.

But 1939 would see neither peace nor prize. Chamberlain and his admirers had been certain that Munich would bring "peace in our time." Instead it helped pave the way for war.

How many times does the lesson have to be relearned? There is no appeasing the unappeasable. When democracies engage with fanatical tyrants, the world becomes not less dangerous but more so.

That wasn't the fashionable view in 1938, however, and it isn't popular today. According to a new World Public Opinion poll, 75 percent of Americans agree that to stabilize Iraq, the United States should enter into talks with Iran and Syria. "I believe in talking to your enemies," James Baker declares. "I don't think you restrict your conversations to your friends." ...

A Churchill quote comes to mind when I read something like this. " An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it eats him last"

...No regimes on earth have more to gain from an American defeat in Iraq than the theocracy in Iran and the Assad dictatorship in Syria. They have every incentive to aggravate the Iraqi turmoil that already has so many Americans clamoring for withdrawal. "There is no evidence to support the assumption that Iran and Syria want a stable Iraq," writes Middle East Quarterly editor Michael Rubin, whose experience in the region runs deep. "Rather, all their actions show a desire to stymie the United States and destabilize their neighbor. More dangerous still . . . is the naive assumption that making concessions to terrorism or forcing others to do so brings peace rather than war."

The war against radical Islam, of which Iraq is but one front, cannot be won so long as regimes like those in Tehran and Damascus remain in power. They are as much our enemies today as the Nazi Reich was our enemy in an earlier era. Imploring Assad and Ahmadinejad for help in Iraq can only intensify the whiff of American retreat that is already in the air. The word for that isn't realism. It's surrender. "

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq Study Group Report (Updated)

I am in the process of reading the Iraq Study Group Report and will try to dissect it as I go but just a perfunctory reading of the Executive Summary gives me more than just a pause. It seems to run a long gamut from Iraq itself to recommendations of a dialog with Iran and Syria as serious "partners" in Iraq. It also brings in the Israeli/Palestinian question and that does not bode well for US/Israeli relations. Of course knowing James Bakers past thoughts on Israel and Jews in general, I can't say that surprises me. Nowhere is terms such as victory to be found. Stay tuned and read it for yourself. I would be interested in any comments regarding your reading and interpretations.
Now this is earth shaking news...

The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing
in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite
militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality.
Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability....If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences
could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse
of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring
countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could
spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand
its base of operations. The global standing of the United States
could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized.
Then we have this jaw dropper:

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.

I'm not even well into the 4th page of the Executive Summary. This is going to be a page turner for sure.
(Update) Ed at Captains Quarters has a couple of very good posts about the ISG Report here and here. And NZ Bear has the report converted to HTML format here.

So far it seems to be as advertised but does have some good ideas that will mostly be overlooked by the media and the casual reader. I'll come back to those in a later post but lets just look at this and digest it.
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 commitment 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 supports radical Palestinian groups. ...

RECOMMENDATION 15: Concerning Syria, some elements of that negotiated peace should be:

• Syria’s full adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 2006, which provides the framework for
Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory.
• Syria’s full cooperation with all investigations into political assassinations in Lebanon, especially those of Rafik
Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory for transshipment of Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah. (This step would do much to solve Israel’s problem with Hezbollah.)
• Syria’s use of its influence with Hamas and Hezbollah for the release of the captured Israeli Defense Force
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian efforts to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon.

Baker and company have been called "realists" in the past but if this is their idea of realism, a proposal that has no chance of happening, I would venture to say that they are more of the Pollyanna school than the school of realism. I guess their idea of success is to cooperate with our enemies and hope for the best while calling a defeat a success and walking away claiming victory. More later. I'm reading this missive again and suggest you do the same. It is not as long as it seems, several blank pages, addendum and lists of members etc. and the meat is double spaced to make it look more impressive a tome than it is.