Thursday, November 30, 2006

Perhaps Iraq Study Group Might Make a Difference

This is an important article from the New York Times. It sounds like although the Baker-Hamiliton Iraq Study Group did come up with a compromise at least it recommends "a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop[s] short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal."

The compromise includes a recommendation for "pullback" which means redeployment and would presumably take a substantial number of our troops out of daily combat and thus limit casualties: "The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries. (A brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.)" By not insisting on a timetable and not telling the administration how to achieve this pullback it allows maximum flexibility to the administration and increases the likelihood the administration can more comfortably adopt the recomendation; very cagily diplomatic that Baker. (But I will NEVER forgive James Baker for being responsible for bullying George W Bush into the presidency in Florida in 2000; he foisted this ignorant, stubborn incompetent on us.)

The recommendations also agree with what I have previously argued is perhaps the key to getting out: "Committee members struggled with ways, short of a deadline, to signal to the Iraqis that Washington would not prop up the government with military forces endlessly." We have to put real pressure on the Iraqis to take over themselves and, I would add, offer to help the Iraqis when requested. Then we get out of the 'occupier' position and become an invited helper.

Finally, "the bulk of the report by the Baker-Hamilton group focused on a recommendation that the United States devise a far more aggressive diplomatic initiative in the Middle East than Mr. Bush has been willing to try so far, including direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Initially, those contacts might be part of a regional conference on Iraq or broader Middle East peace issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but they would ultimately involve direct, high-level talks with Tehran and Damascus."

This is to the good and perhaps it will help the administration get over its allergy to negotiation. What is not so clear to me is precisely how Damascus and Tehran can actually affect the situation in Iraq. However, if there is an increased and serious effort to make progress upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I suspect this would have manifold benefits.

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