Baker, Hamilton Commission on Iraq Reports

By John E. Carey
December 6, 2006

Nearly four years after U.S. military forces toppled the Saddam Hussein regime, the United States faces a “grave and deteriorating” situation in Iraq and the Middle East, according to the bipartisan commission headed by the commission’s co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.

The report painted a grim picture of the situation in Iraq and delivered 79 recommended actions.

“There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved,” the report says.

The commissioners warn that if the situation continues to deteriorate, there is a risk of a “slide toward chaos (that) could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe.”

“Neighboring countries could intervene. …. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized,” commissioners said.

President Bush received the report at a 7 AM White House breakfast meeting. The president said the report “gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion.”

The report recommends more emphasis on key areas of U.S. effort including:
–Training Iraqi forces better and faster;
–“Training the trainers” here in the U.S. better and faster;
–Diplomacy; especially an opening of a dialogue with Iran and Syria.

On September 26, 2006, here on Peace and Freedom, an essay of mine entitled, “Rumsfeld Needs To Go” stated the case made by senior retired military professionals that Mr. Rumsfeld’s approach in the Pentagon was not being entirely successful.

Now that discussion seems positively reinforced.

General Eric Shinseki has also been vindicated. While Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army before the invasion of Iraq, he told Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld he needed a lot more troops in his plan to rapidly stabilize and assure security after Saddam’s government fell.

When General Shinseki retired, neither Rumsfeld nor his Deputy Secretary of Defense attended the retirement ceremony.

The New York Times reported on the disagreement between General Shinseki and Mr. Rumsfeld in an article on February 28, 2003: “Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, ‘wildly off the mark.’”

Mr. Wolfowitz doesn’t look so darned brilliant any more.

The commission on Iraq also calls into question, in a round about way, the U.S. State Department. The commissioners recommend new diplomatic initiatives and call the State Department’s “Hearts and Minds” element of the war (headed by Karen Hughes) a failure.

We’ve been asking “Where is Karen Hughes?” for months.

There has been some concern for at least two years by many of us who watch the State Department.

President Bush abruptly fired Colin Powell as the Secretary of State on November 15, 2004. To be totally accurate, the Washington Post reported at the time that Powell had been told to resign by the president’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

That public display of disaffection followed a strange phase that included Secretary of State Powell making the case before the U.N. that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. When WMD did not appear in Iraq, some said Powell had been “used” by the administration.

Then we have the saga of the new Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleezza Rice. I’ll try not to harp on her too much but I will tell you this: when Secretary of State Rice heard about the disaster of Katrina in New Orleans, she was buying shoes at Ferragomo. That night she went to a Broadway show. The next day she was hitting tennis balls with Monica Selles.

In July 2006, the U.S. Secretary of State was scheduled to go to Vietnam. We cared about this trip to Vietnam for many reasons; not the least of which was that the Communist government had been holding an American citizen, Mrs. Thuong N. “Cuc” Foshee, without charges, medical care or legal council for over a year. We had high hopes that the Secretary of State would encourage her hosts in Vietnam to rapidly release Mrs. Foshee.

But Secretary of State Rice cancelled her mission to Vietnam last July because of the pressing business of the war between Israel and Hezbollah — even though she made it all the way to Malaysia at just about the same time she was supposed to be in Vietnam.

In fact, that July trip by the Secretary of State was supposed to be a diplomatic mission to Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.

All this diplomacy never happened, save the Malaysia piece. Given recent events in North Korea and the difficult decisions to be made now, would that July trip have paid some dividends?

Perhaps.

Last July the Secretary of State, unfortunately, could not make it to Vietnam, Japan, China, or South Korea due to the war in Lebanon. But she did make it all the way to Malaysia to entertain other diplomats at a dinner by playing the piano (Brahms’ Sonata in D Minor, 2nd Movement).

So, because our nation did not have a special envoy to the Middle East, and the Secretary of State tried (and failed) to meet all her diplomatic responsibilities, Mrs. Foshee remained in jail in Vietnam. And who knows what else the United States left on or under the table unattended to with China, Japan and South Korea.

Finally, this State Department has been the architect of a plan that refuses to discuss, on a one on one basis, any issues with at least three important nations: Syria, Iran and North Korea. The commission on Iraq recommends that dialogue be opened with Syria and Iran now.

At the press conference today at 11 AM Eastern Time, Leon Panetta made a briffiant comment or two about national unity. He said you can’t be in a war and achieve success, with the nation divided as it is. We applaud him for these remarks.

We believe the Baker–Hamilton Commission on Iraq has done the nation a great service. It will be interesting to see how many of their recommendations are embraced and implemented.

A Few Notes: The Iraq Study Group was the brainchild of Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). Wolf started to talk to people about a set of “new eyes” to study the situation in Iraq and make recommendations following his third trip to Iraq in September 2005. We congratulate and applaud Rep. Wolf.

The members of the Iraq Study Group include Lawrence Eagleburger (secretary of state under the first President Bush), Vernon E. Jordan Jr. (former adviser to President Bill Clinton), Edwin Meese III (attorney general under President Ronald Reagan), Sandra Day O’Connor (former Supreme Court justice), Leon E. Panetta (chief of staff under Clinton and Democratic former representative from California), William J. Perry (secretary of defense under Clinton), Charles S. Robb (Democratic former senator from Virginia) and Alan K. Simpson (Republican former senator from Wyoming).

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Related article:

Keeping Resolve in
Iraq:
The Real Lesson From
Vietnam
By John E. CareyThe
Washington Times
Sunday, January 16, 2005

Some respected leaders recently advocated an expeditious American withdrawal from Iraq. Others favored a postponement of the elections in Iraq. Many, watching the bloodshed in Iraq, search for quick and easy ways to spare lives and halt the bloodshed.

Senator George McGovern has been among those saying Iraq will be around for thousands of years with or without American help. True enough. But the Senator, and many others, go a step further when they compare Iraq to Vietnam. Senator McGovern has even said that Vietnam is now an American trading partner if not a friend. In his mind, apparently, America’s decision to withdraw from Vietnam in 1975 made for a happy ending.

Comparing Iraq to the struggle in Vietnam seems problematic. Believing that it is O.K. to fight a war half way and then depart precipitously and without a complete understanding of all potential outcomes and consequences is irresponsible and sadly distorts the lessons of history.

Ask the Vietnamese living here in America. They are torn by their deep loyalty and love for the U.S. and the belief that they were devaluated in 1975 when America executed the “cut and run.” The Vietnamese here now love the fact that Americans helped them hold off the tide of the communist North for years. They deeply value their freedom and their lives here in a country that has largely accepted them. But the Vietnamese here in America are reticent to tell you what they believe in their hearts and what they discuss in small gatherings among family and friends: that America ultimately let them down in 1975, creating chaos and bloodshed in Vietnam and Southeast Asia for years.

When America left Vietnam in 1975, the communists came south, sweeping away the former South Vietnam, and imprisoning or killing untold numbers of freedom-loving Vietnamese. More than 900,000 South Vietnamese were sent to concentration camps. Millions lost everything: homes, family, jobs and all possessions. A vast migration called the Vietnam Diaspora ensued. Something like three million people left Vietnam, many in small, undependable boats. Many of these “boat people“ succumbed to starvation, the ravages of the sea, or murdering pirates. Those that made it safely to other lands spread to all corners of the earth. Vietnamese people now live in France, Norway and nearly every other European country. They settled in Australia and other countries that would have them. Almost 2 million people from Vietnam now live here in the U.S. and the majority are now productive, legal citizens.

But the journey of these refugees was seldom easy. No one should minimize the agony of the trip to escape the communists. Many Vietnamese were refugees for years. Many of the “boat people” made it to the Philippines, only to be interred in an infamous “camp” on Palawan Island. These refugees lived a life in limbo. Palawan wasn’t quite a prisoner of war camp but it was a long way from the freedoms of the former South Vietnam. And Palawan fell well short of the goal: freedom and a home in America. During the Diaspora, some Vietnamese refugees among the survivors spent ten to fifteen years trying to get to other countries. Many were forcibly returned to Vietnam.

And what was left behind in Southest Asia? In Vietnam: communism, repression and a loss of freedom. The economy in Vietnam is just now recovering from twenty-five plus years of communist repression. After 1975, more than two million people were killed by the communists in Cambodia. Southeast Asia was in turmoil for years after the American withdrawal from Vietnam.

If you ask the Vietnamese who fled their homeland after the war ended in 1975, they’ll tell you that the lesson of American commitment is to stay the course. If that is not possible, they’ll beg American leaders to carefully consider all the implications of an American commitment gone bad: a withdrawal with haste and little regard for the plight of the allies.

So, what might the delay in the elections in Iraq mean? Would the insurgents be emboldened? The answer is undoubtedly: yes. The insurgents, who are also the terrorists, are looking for any sign of the erosion of America’s will. Any indicator that points toward an early withdrawal of American forces means the insurgents are on the right track to achieve their goals. The insurgents want America out of Iraq so that they can work their will on the freedom-loving Iraqis without American intervention.

And if America leaves Iraq, what happens to the freedom loving Iraqis? The Kurds are trapped between Turkey, a nation that has little use for them, and the Sunnis including remnants of Saddam Hussein’s former Bath party, who openly despise the Kurds. Saddam Hussein once tried to wipe out the Kurds using chemical weapons, as if the Kurds were so many cockroaches.

The Sunnis, roughly 20% of the Iraqi population, held power in Iraq for decades during Saddam’s rule. They controlled the military, the police and other important institutions of society, to the detriment of all others. They fear that their past sins will be avenged by the majority after the elections. The Sunnis also fear that their power will be totally and forever lost in the election process and consequently want the elections delayed and America out of Iraq.

The Shiia want the elections, which they see as an opportunity to re-capture their rightful place as leaders of their own Iraqi destiny.

So what happens if the elections were delayed or America decided to leave Iraq before the restoration of peace and stability? Chaos? Probably. Civil War? Maybe. A nation partitioned into three or more parts? Quite possibly. Bloodshed? Definitely. When America departs from a war-torn land, we know bloodshed follows. American lives are saved while countless others die.

The insurgents in Iraq learned the real lesson of Vietnam: that any sign of a lack of American resolve or a hasty American withdrawal can mean short-term chaos but a long-term victory for those leading the insurgency.

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