The Not So Fabulous Baker Boy

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According to The Times of London, here are the general outlines of what the Iraq Study Group, a commission co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, might be offering the administration as a plan to resolve the imbroglio in Iraq.

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls "cutting and running" or "staying the course" …

His group will not advise "partition", but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.

Several ideas come to mind. First, far from being an alternative to "cutting and running", the plan seems an effort to prepare the ground for precisely that. How? Once the Kurds and the Shiites fully take in hand their security, the rationale goes, and they will do so once they have "states" to protect, then the U.S. can cut back its troop levels radically and pull out, or more likely withdraw to safe areas, probably to Kurdistan. But Washington's effective control over broad Iraqi policy would be largely over.

Second, the plan, whatever the denials that it is partition, is partition if it turns out as the article suggests. Nothing suggests a majority of Iraqis want partition, quite the contrary, or that this plan will resolve anything. In fact, it may lead to a new Yugoslavia type situation, where communities fight over mixed areas. This time Baker won't be able to say "we have no dog in this fight" as he did when Yugoslavia collapsed. Historically, partitions have been terribly traumatic, whether in India, Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, Palestine, and elsewhere, and it will very probably be the same in Iraq.

Third, is it really up to the U.S., after it screwed up postwar normalization in Iraq, to compound this with a plan that would only be perceived by Iraqis as a further effort to break them apart? Almost certainly this plan would be depicted by Iraqis and most Arabs as an effort to break up the Middle East into statelets to ensure that Israel remains strong, whatever the truth of that claim. At this stage, with everything that has gone on in the country, it seems far preferable to let the Iraqis decide their own future. The U.S. owes them patience and time to arrive at a solution by themselves.

Fourth, asking Iran and Syria to guarantee this process means asking the two states most responsible for destabilizing Iraq to oversee its stabilization. That's a typical realist habit of course, and Baker has long made deals with those who screwed the Americans the most. Hafiz Assad was responsible for allowing Shiite Islamists to kill American soldiers and civilians in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and was rewarded by Baker and George H.W. Bush when the U.S. granted Syria total hegemony over Lebanon in 1990.

Let's await the final plan before judging it, but I have very little faith that James Baker is the man who can shape an imaginative policy toward Iraq; not the man who has so thoroughly embodied the set ways of the traditional foreign policy curia in the Middle East, with its devotion to "reliable" thugs and indifference to liberal democracy. George W. Bush may have made a hash of things in Iraq, but the solution is not to fall back on the lubricated facilitators of the sordid relationship with Middle Eastern dictators–those who more than others made 9/11 a reality.

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  1. Um, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the current Iraqi Constitution already provide for the establishment of semi-sovereign regions? The Kurds already have that, and the Shias are basically going to get it, even though the Sunnis are resisting it for fear that it will mean loss of oil revenue.

    They don’t need us to put any new plan on the table to get partition, they already have the means for it.

    The only change that might be necessary to facilitate partition is bicameralism, with a second chamber that gives equal (or at least roughly equal) representation to each region. The US did something similar as part of our federal system, and while I can’t exactly say that a body which includes Robert Byrd and Ted Stevens is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’d rather have a Senate than not have a Senate.

    And even in the current system, conflict over border areas is simmering. Kirkuk and Mosul are disputed areas. Or maybe I should rephrase that: The oil fields around Kirkuk and Mosul are disputed areas.

    Basically, a de facto partition is already a guarantee under the current Constitution. The only thing that needs to change for this to become finalized is for the Sunnis to conclude that loss of oil revenue is a price worth paying if the alternative is to be ruled by a hostile majority.

  2. Micheal you just don’t get it.

    It isn’t about Iraq. Never has been. Iraq doesn’t count. Never did.

    It’s all about the good ol’ USA.

    If you think anyone in the American political establishment, or the general public for that matter, gives a fuck about Iraq at this stage, you are hopeless.

  3. “The U.S. owes them patience and time to arrive at a solution by themselves.”

    We owed them this in March 2003, too. Better late than never, I guess.

    Welcome to the liberal position on Iraq, Mr. Young: where “democracy” isn’t just a slogan.

    “Fourth, asking Iran and Syria to guarantee this process means asking the two states most responsible for destabilizing Iraq to oversee its stabilization.”

    Uh, yeah. Syria and Iran – that’s why Iraq’s a mess. Class, can anyone name another state that is responsible for the chaos in Iraq?

    “George W. Bush may have made a hash of things in Iraq, but the solution is not to fall back on the lubricated facilitators of the sordid relationship with Middle Eastern dictators–” True enough – any political movements whose leaders have been seen holding handsies with Middle Eastern dictators ought to STFU for a couple of decades.

    “…those who more than others made 9/11 a reality.”

    bin Ladin and his cronies have a plan for ending the war in Iraq?

  4. Iran and Syria, neither of whom have fired a shot in Iraq, are “most responsible” for the violence and chaos there.

    Jim Baker and the realist right, all of whom were going about their business that horrible Tuesday morning, are “those who more than others made 9/11 a reality.”

    War on Terror, neoconservative style:

    Enemy #1: hostile governments.

    Enemy #2 domestic political opponents.

    Why do I suspect that “uncooperative allies” appear higher than “Al Qaeda” on this list?

  5. James J Baker the Third.
    Um….everybody got Alzhiemers? Maybe its fashionable now, what with Reagan & all….but…
    The guy is a conniving scumbag. A bloody handed idiot. A butcher, an appeaser of tyrants, a smooth explainer away of dead peasants, a money grubbing fixer.
    And I hope I dont trigger Dear Leader Tims (sensible) admonitions against callin people bad names.
    I mean: JJBaker the III- jeez. Might as well ask Henry the K what HE thinks……

  6. If you think anyone in the American political establishment, or the general public for that matter, gives a fuck about Iraq at this stage, you are hopeless.

    exactly.

  7. having said that, this bit of nit wittery deserves a rebuke:
    “Hafiz Assad was responsible for allowing Shiite Islamists to kill American soldiers and civilians in Lebanon in the early 1980s,”
    WHAT? UM, lets see. US troops enter Lebanon as “neutral peacekeepers”, and are, with folks remembering Ikes stand during the Suez War, actually considered as such. Ignoring such an idiotic Reagan move as using assault troops (Our amazing Marines) as “peacekeepers) a role guaranteed to demoralize them, he then, bored, & listening to murderous nitwits like Baker, decides this peacekeeping along side his friends (as He said) the Syrians, just isnt exciting enough. So, he orders the Iowa (or was it the NJ) to use its main guns to shell the Shia Bekaa Valley. “Precision bombardment” we are told, over & over again. I remember it too clearly. Except it wasnt, of course. 16 in shells, at damn near a ton apiece, all falling all over the place, because the propulsing gunpowder was deteriorated to the point of wild inaccuracy. The United States, whose Marines were ORDERED by Baker, et al, NOT to fortify, (send the wrong “signal”, you see) was dropping massive artillery projectiles, on “suspected” enemy positions, with no guarantee of accuracy. Or that the “suspects” were more guilty than, say, your own Ma.
    But no. “Terrorists” with the “permission” of Syria, or Nicaragua, or Canadian liberals, just out of the blue blew up our peacekeeping Marines, because they hate our freedom. Do I have it right?
    Do your own damn research on this. You’ll see an 11 million emergency appropriation to crank up the Big Gun powder manufacturing a year later because the deterioration of the Korea War vintage powder.
    Naval gunnery officers there & then called into question the powder & were ordered to shut up about it.
    What complete crap, top to bottom.

  8. If Iraq is not partitioned from the outside, it will be self-partitioned instead.

    Personally I don’t see how this will be wound up in any way except like in Yugoslavia. Ethnic cleansing, homogenous states, fierce fighting over border delineation etc.

    We may as well do our best to make it happen as peacefully as possible so it doesn’t turn into a hopeless quagmire like Lebanon.

  9. joe: I, too, choked on my soda when I read that Syria and Iran were most responsible for destabilizing Iraq. It takes considerable self-delusion to ignore ten years of enabling Saddam while he was fighting Iran followed by ten years of unprecedented international sanctions followed by the destruction of the national government. Not many countries have endured such a whipsaw and not many could. The US would likely disintegrate under the impact of a ten-year blockade.

    But Michael Young appears to have missed the Eighties and Nineties. No, he asserts, all of Iraq’s problems started just a couple of years ago, not with the people that actually invaded and occupied the country, but with the nations sitting on the sidelines and whispering.

    That’s an interesting theory, but it doesn’t seem to fit the facts.

  10. Everything would be just peachy if Iran and Syria didn’t seek any influence over events in a neighbor occupied by a global superpower.

  11. If Iran and Syria weren’t involved in Iraq, the Iraqis would behave exactly as we want them to and Liberal Paradise would be well underway.

  12. Saddam’s Iraq functioned (if that’s the appropriate word) on the basis of tribal privileges. Any constitutional or political settlement will basically have to be a guarantee of concrete privileges such as those that the Sunnis (including the larger group of Sunnis who weren’t on Saddam’s own tribal gravy train) were in possession of before the US invaded.

    Democracy, shemocracy. The Sunnis don’t care about democracy, rights, or any other beautiful abstractions that fail to guarantee specific (rather than formal) benefits. Concrete privileges are what they want — if not the exact privileges they had before Saddam was toppled, then at least the major ones (such as administrative primacy with regard to oil revenues).

    Iraqi democracy? The US should have planned on catering to a network of tribal hegemonies. Those are the real units of Iraqi political power; and any attempt to replace them with something more abstract (i.e. something that dissipates tribal power) is going to be met with armed resistance.

    Regards,

  13. It seems that Baker’s Iraq Study Group plan looks a lot like the plan that Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb have been pushing for nearly six months ( http://www.cfr.org/publication/10569/unity_through_autonomy_in_iraq.html ) Although it’s not new or earth-shaking, it may be the last chance to get a change of course from Bush, especially if Baker, the designated Bush family graybeard, is the one hauling the water.

    The scenario will likely be a big announcement after the mid-term election of Rumsfeld’s resignation (to pursue other opportunities in the private sector, no doubt), followed by appointment of Joe Lieberman as the new SecDef (after McCain turns it down). Then Lieberman and Condi Rice will provide cover for the implementation of the Iraq Study Group’s report, which will prevent Bush from ever having to say he was wrong or sorry.

  14. Since Mr. Young is against and predicting failure, I have to be for it–he hasn’t been right about a goddamn thing in the Mideast yet.

  15. exactly

    And exactly why the fuck should the American public care about Iraq? Let those crazies go to hell I say. Do you think they care about Americans?

  16. And exactly why the fuck should the American public care about Iraq? Let those crazies go to hell I say. Do you think they care about Americans?

    Most likely not. But they most certainly didn’t send 150,000 soldiers to invade the US, did they?

  17. Let there be Kurdish, Sunni and Shia “regions.” Baghdad is too mixed to allow for divisions, so there’s going to have to be a Capital District. Each of these needs to be divided into Swiss-style cantons, so that minorities living amidst the dominant group in their region can have their rights protected. An Iraqi Upper House could have a “Senator” from each canton. Of course, it could be a House of the Sheiks, with tribal representation in the Upper House and geographical representation in the Lower.

    Just blueskying. None of us knows what would really work.

    Kevin

  18. Iran and Syria…the two states most responsible for destabilizing Iraq to oversee its stabilization.

    That’s a good one.

    What with Saddam being, consecutively, and within the space of two decades, our ally, our enemy and finally our pinata, you still think others are MOST responsible for the instability.

    Surely REASON would figure that Iraq’s neighbors have little alternative than to regard the country as anything but a mutable clusterf*ck. And “partition” would only reinforce this perception.

  19. As to withdrawal – “pull out or withdraw” – keep in mind that since at least a year ago, US military had completed building permanent bases: p-e-r-m-a-n-e-n-t. I think Baker and Kissinger are, to a considerable degree, window dressing – “cover” – a delaying tactic. Also, it may be a concession to the lesser hawks in the Administration, who would like to pull out as much as possible. Cheney and Rumsfeld, however, are likely to have the last word, and no sign they are any less full bore warhawks. Sorry.

  20. “Fourth, asking Iran and Syria to guarantee this process means asking the two states most responsible for destabilizing Iraq to oversee its stabilization”…………you must be kidding? The U.S. under the Bush gang had nothing to do with the destablization of course.

    By the way, in one of his statements, Bin Laden cites the mercyless bombing of the Shia Bekaa Valley by the Reagan regime as a watershed in his thinking. It started him down the road of anti-U.S. sentiment culminating in 9/11. Remember, till that point, he was one of our buddies in the war against the commies. History is messy and “blowback” is real. God spare us ordinary folks from our misguided leaders.

  21. Ah, the old “root causes” crap. The Islamist movement is much more than simply a response to U.S. foreign policy and would have existed in any event. Unless we were to adopt a Swiss-style foreign policy we would serve as a convenient target for them *regardless of what we do.* So put away the hair shirt, already.

    Iraq is a fake state cobbled together by the British. It was inevitably going to end badly, regardless of our involvement. Baker’s ideas are nothing more than wishful thinking and will do nothing to avert the upcoming tribal civil war there, but kneejerk Bush-bashing reveals the speaker’s bias and ignorance, in my opinion.

  22. Once the Kurds and the Shiites fully take in hand their security, the rationale goes, and they will do so once they have “states” to protect,

    They have and they do – especially the Kurds. To assert that the Kurds have not already established a relatively secure area for themselves indicates you haven’t been paying attention.

    …that would only be perceived by Iraqis as a further effort to break them apart?

    The main problems are that the main factions are more concerned with religious and ethnic divisions than Iraqi unity.

    Almost certainly this plan would be depicted by Iraqis and most Arabs as an effort to break up the Middle East into statelets to ensure that Israel remains strong,

    If breaking them up gives them control over oil fields and border territory while keeping insurgents cordoned off, I don’t think they’re gonna care.

  23. The Federal Republic of Iraq. Sounds fine to me. Too bad that Turkey got belligerent with the U.S. prior to the war; otherwise, we’d probably have a favorable opinion right about now about restoring the Ottoman Empire to its rightful owners.

  24. Speaking of Turkey, the Turks would absolutely freak out if Kurdistan officially became a separate country. The PKK is already getting awfully excited.

    Blech, nation building is hard?

  25. The heck with Turkey. If it wants to be accepted as a member of the European Union, it’s got to start acting European. You know, by relaxing, having a pastry and some coffee, and remarking at how cool Saladin really was.

  26. Iraqi democracy? The US should have planned on catering to a network of tribal hegemonies. Those are the real units of Iraqi political power; and any attempt to replace them with something more abstract (i.e. something that dissipates tribal power) is going to be met with armed resistance.

    I think that’s 100% correct.

    I think the below =

    The main problems are that the main factions are more concerned with religious and ethnic divisions than Iraqi unity.

    is slightly less correct; i think the ‘religious’ angle has been overplayed somewhat, and the tribal angle downplayed.

    I also think there is little regard given to the level of nationalism the Iraqis have. While smaller-unit tribalism characterizes the population, they all want to keep the whole enchilada intact. Partly DUE to the tribalism, i believe. They know that ‘representative’ government with reasoned negotiations between groups would ultimately be a failure (see the damascus scene from Lawrence of Arabia for foreshadowing); I personally think they will ultimately seek a strong central government to keep all the other regional mini-powers in line, and also to be able to deal forcefully in negotiation with the stronger countries on their borders.

    Thats just my read though. I do generally agree that the western notion of pluralistic democracy in the region is a square peg in a round hole.

    JG

  27. GILMORE:

    Yes, yes, and yes again.

  28. This tells me Bush Jr can’t cut the mustard and daddy Bush is getting his people to try to mop up Jr’s mess. But is there a mop big enough.

  29. Once again, Gilmore wraps it up in a logical manner.
    This site is a Good Thing……..

  30. “(see the damascus scene from Lawrence of Arabia for foreshadowing)”

    What need of telephone?!?

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