The distinguished British journalist Simon Jenkins wrote Wednesday in the Guardian (UK) that "The Baker report on an exit strategy from Iraq, leaked this week in the U.S., is as sensible as it is sensational. It rejects 'staying the course' as no longer plausible and purports to seek alternatives to just 'cutting and running.' Stripped of political sweetening, it concludes that there is none. America must leave Iraq without preconditions and hope that its neighbors, hated Syria and Iran, can clear up the mess. This advice comes not from some anti-war coalition but from the Iraq study group under the former Republican secretary of state, James Baker, set up by Congress with President George Bush's endorsement. Students of Iraq studies should at this point sit down and steady their nerves. Kissinger is in Paris. The Vietnam moment is at hand." -- Jenkins described the Iraqi catastrophe in terms rarely heard in the U.S. mainstream press: "A third of Iraq's professional class is reported to have fled to Jordan, a flight of skills worse than under Saddam. U.N. monitors now report 2,000 people a day are crossing the Syrian border. Over a hundred lecturers at Baghdad university alone have been murdered, mostly for teaching women. There are few places in Iraq where women can go about unattended or unveiled. Gunmen arrived earlier this month at a Baghdad television station and massacred a dozen of the staff, an incident barely thought worth reporting. The national museum is walled up. Electricity supply is down to four hours a day. No police uniform can be trusted. The arrival anywhere of an army unit can be prelude to a mass killing and makes a mockery of the American policy of 'security transfer.' All intelligence out of Iraq suggests this is no longer a functioning state." -- Doyle McManus reported Monday in the Los Angeles Times on the leaked findings of the "Baker report," first reported by the New York Sun. ...
AMERICA HAS FINALLY TAKEN ON THE GRIM REALITY OF IRAQ
By Simon Jenkins
** The US is radically rethinking its exit strategy, while Britain waits zombie-like for new instructions **
October 18, 2006
The Baker report on an exit strategy from Iraq, leaked this week in the U.S., is as sensible as it is sensational. It rejects "staying the course" as no longer plausible and purports to seek alternatives to just "cutting and running." Stripped of political sweetening, it concludes that there is none. America must leave Iraq without preconditions and hope that its neighbors, hated Syria and Iran, can clear up the mess. This advice comes not from some anti-war coalition but from the Iraq study group under the former Republican secretary of state, James Baker, set up by Congress with President George Bush's endorsement. Students of Iraq studies should at this point sit down and steady their nerves. Kissinger is in Paris. The Vietnam moment is at hand.
Earlier this week Bush telephoned the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to reassure him about rumors swirling through Washington that the Pentagon was about to topple him for being useless. It was reported that Maliki had just two months to get both his army and the escalating violence -- running at some 100 deaths a day -- under control. Washington was allegedly searching for a new "strong man" to pull the militias into line and assert the power of central government over Iraq's catatonic insecurity.
Lending force to these rumors, Republican Senator John Warner has spoken of a deadline for withdrawal and some version of a "three-state" solution. The Kurds are already autonomous. Let the same apply to the Sunnis and Shia. In the west of the country a Sunni body, the Mujahedin Shura, has come out for a six province western region under Prince Abu Omar Baghdadi. In the south the Iranians are watching as the British cede control and a possible eight-province "confederacy" slides effortlessly under their de facto aegis. Every U.S. thinktank is now busying itself (at last) with alternative futures for Iraq.
Since accurate reporting is near impossible, the scale of that country's collapse under three years of U.S. and U.K. occupation is hard to measure. Civil war is normally indicated by death rates and population movements. Whether the figure of civilian deaths is 50,000 or ten times that number is immaterial; either is a horrific comment on the impotence of the occupation. The UNHCR estimates 365,000 internal refuges in Iraq this year alone. More are seeking asylum abroad than from any other nation.
A third of Iraq's professional class is reported to have fled to Jordan, a flight of skills worse than under Saddam. U.N. monitors now report 2,000 people a day are crossing the Syrian border. Over a hundred lecturers at Baghdad university alone have been murdered, mostly for teaching women. There are few places in Iraq where women can go about unattended or unveiled. Gunmen arrived earlier this month at a Baghdad television station and massacred a dozen of the staff, an incident barely thought worth reporting. The national museum is walled up. Electricity supply is down to four hours a day. No police uniform can be trusted. The arrival anywhere of an army unit can be prelude to a mass killing and makes a mockery of the American policy of "security transfer." All intelligence out of Iraq suggests this is no longer a functioning state.
For all the abuse which Europeans regularly heap on the American political process, it has one strength, its capacity for course-correction. A constitution heavy with checks and balances enables it to respond to new circumstances with brutal pluralism. Three years ago America went to war on a lie, a wing, and a prayer. That war has clearly failed and consensus is disintegrating. Congress subjects serving and retired generals to searing cross-examination. Senior figures go to Baghdad and, when they break free of their minders, report independently. There is none of the executive deference of Britain's parliamentary committees and tongue-tied "loyal opposition." America's debate on Iraq is now a grim, grinding encounter with reality.
The debate must contemplate the painful but not unfamiliar experience of imperial retreat. As in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia the moment is delayed but the deed will be efficient. The Baker commission, appearing in full after November's congressional election, realizes the senselessness of the present bloodbath. It reportedly accepts that the continued presence of foreign forces does not prevent but adds to the chaos. American troops are in occupation but not in control. Their departure can hardly undermine security, except possibly that of Baghdad's green zone, and that is largely privatized.
A measure of the collapse is the astonishing suggestion that America find a new regime in consultation with Iran and Syria. This can only mean accepting some degree of confederacy, looking to the shadowy militias, warlords, and sheikhs for provincial and regional leadership. Last year's Iraq constitution negotiated by the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zelmay Khalilzad, remains the best template for this. It is significant that Maliki, in a recent interview with USA Today, referred to the possibility of giving Sunnis and Shia muslims some of the autonomy enjoyed by the Kurds. Given the sheer scale of civil violence rife in and around Baghdad the price of such autonomy may be population migration, but that is happening on a massive scale already: Iraq is partitioning itself. It might at least presage a sort of political reconstruction, without which peace and prosperity are inconceivable.
What is humiliating for Britons is that not a whisper of such lateral thinking can be heard from the government. Downing Street is intellectually numb, like a forgotten outpost of a crumbling Roman empire. It can see the barbarians at the gates yet it dare not respond as it knows it should because no new instructions have arrived from Rome. As for parliament, the opposition, academics, thinktanks, and most of the media, a zombie-like inertia is all. Last week's row over controversial remarks by the army chief, Sir Richard Dannatt, was concerned not with what he said but whether he should have said it. Every one is waiting for the U.S. to move.
Blair's last comment on Iraq was that any withdrawal would be "craven surrender" and would endanger British security. This is mad. Even Bush can admit to be "open to new ideas on Iraq." Blair has clearly not heard of Baker's report. Perhaps he should hurry to Washington for new instructions from the boss.
The Conflict in Iraq
PANEL TO SEEK CHANGE ON IRAQ
By Doyle McManus
** A commission backed by Bush has agreed that 'stay the course' is not working, its leader says. A phased withdrawal is one option on the table. **
Los Angeles Times
October 16, 2006
Original source: Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON -- A commission backed by President Bush that is exploring U.S. options in Iraq intends to propose significant changes in the administration's strategy by early next year, members say.
Two options under consideration would represent reversals of U.S. policy: withdrawing American troops in phases, and bringing neighboring Iran and Syria into a joint effort to stop the fighting.
While it weighs alternatives, the 10-member commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III has agreed on one principle.
"It's not going to be 'stay the course,'" one participant said. "The bottom line is, [current U.S. policy] isn't working. . . . There's got to be another way."
If the panel recommends overhauling Bush's approach to Iraq, it could give a boost not only to critics of current policy but also to officials in the administration who have argued for broad changes.
"There'll probably be some things in our report that the administration might not like," Baker said in a television interview last week.
It's unclear how willing Bush is to change his strategy, which focuses on improving security in Baghdad, training Iraqi security forces and pressing the Iraqi government to forge a political agreement among warring factions.
Progress on all those fronts has been slow, and Bush last week said he was open to ideas.
"My attitude is: Don't do what you're doing if it's not working -- change," Bush said at a news conference.
When the panel was formed in March, some administration officials hoped it would produce a bipartisan endorsement of existing policy. But as sectarian violence in Iraq has worsened, more Republicans in Congress -- and privately some administration officials -- have become receptive to alternatives.
The Baker panel, called the Iraq Study Group, was formed in response to a proposal by members of Congress. Nevertheless, Baker sought -- and won -- Bush's endorsement.
Other members include former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), who also served as co-chairman of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; former Rep. Leon E. Panetta, a California Democrat who was President Clinton's chief of staff; and former CIA Director Robert M. Gates.
In its most recent closed-door meetings, the commission focused on two options drafted by experts outside the government.
One, titled "Stability First," calls for continuing to try to stabilize Baghdad, boosting efforts to entice insurgents into politics, and bringing Iran and Syria into plans to end the fighting.
The other, called "Redeploy and Contain," goes further. It calls for a gradual, phased withdrawal of American troops to bases outside Iraq where they would be available for strikes against terrorist organizations anywhere in the region.
The experts also prepared an option called "Stay the Course, Redefine the Mission," and an alternative urging a quick U.S. withdrawal, but the panel appeared less interested in those plans, participants said.
The options were first reported last week by the New York Sun.
Baker and other commission members refused to confirm the substance of the options and emphasized that the panel had made no decisions. But Baker signaled the thrust of the panel's deliberations in several television interviews last week.
"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run,'" Baker said.
The former secretary of State, who was a longtime aide to former President George H.W. Bush, also said he favored reaching out to Iran and Syria.
"I personally believe in talking to your enemies," he said. "Neither the Syrians nor the Iranians want a chaotic Iraq . . . so maybe there is some potential for getting something other than opposition from those countries."
Bringing Iran and Syria into negotiations would require significant changes in U.S. policy.
"To bring them in, we need to stop emphasizing things like democracy and start emphasizing things like stability and territorial integrity," said James Dobbins of the Rand Corp., a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan. "We need to stop talking about regime change. It's unreasonable to think you can stabilize Iraq and destabilize Iran and Syria at the same time."
The Iraq Study Group said Dobbins was one of its advisors. Dobbins refused to talk about the panel's work, and said he was giving a personal opinion. Other participants described the commission's discussions on condition they not be identified because Baker had asked them to keep the work confidential.
Baker, promoting a new volume of his memoirs in a recent flurry of television interviews, including an appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," offered his views on issues under consideration by the panel. He also appeared on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show."
After the publicity blitz drew quiet grumbles from other panel participants, Baker canceled a scheduled breakfast with newspaper reporters and declined a request from the Times for an interview.
In his interviews, Baker said he did not support calls for an early withdrawal of U.S. troops. "I think that if we picked up and left right now that you would see the biggest civil war you've ever seen," he said.
He also said he did not agree with proposals to divide Iraq into three states for Sunni Arabs, Shiites, and Kurds. "Most all the experts we've talked with think that might . . . trigger a civil war."
And instead of trying to bring democracy to all nations in the Middle East, he said, the U.S. should define success as achieving "representative government, not necessarily democracy."
Another participant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the panel was considering whether the United States should warn the Iraqi government to get its "act together or else," a threat to withdraw troops unless the government's performance improved.
An administration official was skeptical that the panel would uncover new policy options, but said the White House would welcome ideas.
"If an independent group like the Baker panel can come up with some good ideas, we're all for it," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because his comment had not been approved.
Participants in the Iraq Study Group said an additional goal was to identify options that Republicans and Democrats could endorse.
The commission is scheduled to meet again in mid-November. It hopes to deliver a report to Bush, Congress and the public by early 2007.
Some members of Congress, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.), asked Baker to provide a report after next month's congressional elections, but Baker reportedly concluded that he would need more time to build a bipartisan consensus on significant recommendations.
Baker and Hamilton noted that the panel had consulted more than 150 experts, including representatives of Iran and Syria, and that its members spent four days in Iraq this year.
Administration officials also have briefed the panel.
"You can't come out of those briefings and not have a sense that things are in real bad shape," one participant said. "The bottom line is, it's not working. They know that. And they know that time is not on their side."