Iraq 28: “If we left now, we’d be back in again within a year”

December 11, 2006

* “If we started to pull out of Iraq or even pulled out, we’d be back in again within a year… as soon as it becomes clear that a terrorist organization based in Iraq is planning operations against the United States, which will certainly be the case, no American president can say well that’s just unfortunate”

* James Baker, meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad



1. Making decisions on Israel’s existence without asking Israel
2. Baker wants Israel excluded from regional conference
3. “Baker turns to mush when it comes to Assad”
4. Giuliani calls idea of quitting Iraq too soon a “terrible mistake”
5. The New York Post: The ISG are “Surrender monkeys”
6. If only Israel…
7. Kurds also reject Iraq report
8. And so does the Iraqi president
9. But French and Germans welcome it
10. “If we left now, we’d be back in again within a year”
11. Israeli official: Syria preparing for war
12. “Baker wants Israel excluded from regional conference” (Insight Mag., Dec. 11, 2006)
13. “ISG must stand for, uh, Inane Strategy Guesswork” (Mark Steyn, Chicago S-T, Dec. 10, 2006)
14. “Giuliani calls idea of quitting Iraq ‘terrible mistake’” (New York Sun, Dec. 7, 2006)

[Note by Tom Gross]


I attach some pieces connected to the important report issued by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. (I sent a few people two of these pieces last week.) Israel is, incidentally (and amazingly), the only country that the report says is required to make specific concessions.

At the present time, it seems that President Bush is trying to reject the central recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, even as the panel’s co-chairmen conduct an intensive lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to press Bush to adopt their report wholesale. But Bush, much weakened by the congressional election results and the incessant media onslaught against him, may not succeed in preventing Baker and his supporters from getting their way.


James Baker, who is widely distrusted by Jews and the government of Israel, not only for his past policies when he was secretary of state under the elder President Bush, but also for his infamous “F--- the Jews” remark, now wants them excluded from a conference about carving up Israel, according to a report (below) in Insight magazine.

While we don’t know yet how accurate the report is, Insight magazine does have a track record of breaking news out of Washington first. And reliable journalists like former Margaret Thatcher advisor and speechwriter John O’Sullivan (who is a subscriber to this email list) and Martin Walker are on its editorial board.


In the second piece below, from yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Steyn savages the findings of the Iraq Study Group: “If only Neville Chamberlain had thought to propose a ‘support group’ for Czechoslovakia, he might still be in office. Or guest-hosting for Oprah,” says Steyn.

“These are by far the most prominent Americans ever to legitimize a concept whose very purpose is to render any Zionist entity impossible. I’m not one of those who assumes that just because much of James Baker’s post-government career has been so lavishly endowed by the Saudis that he must necessarily be a wholly owned subsidiary of King Abdullah, but it’s striking how this document frames all the issues within the pathologies of the enemy.

“And that’s before we get to Iran and Syria. So tough-minded and specific when it comes to the Israelis, Baker turns to mush when it comes to Assad assassinating his way through Lebanon’s shrinking Christian community or Ahmadinejad and the mullahs painting the finish trim on the Iranian nukes… James Baker has achieved the perfect reductio ad absurdum of diplomatic self-adulation: he’s less rational than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”


In the third and final piece below, Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, calls the idea of quitting Iraq too early a “terrible mistake.” Giuliani, who may run for president in 2008, resigned from the Iraq Study Group when it became clear that signing the group’s report would conflict with his own views.

Sen. John McCain, also a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, has sharply criticized the report’s findings too. “There’s only one thing worse than an over-stressed Army and Marine Corps, and that’s a defeated Army and Marine Corps,” said McCain, a Vietnam veteran who will become the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee when the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress in January. “I believe this is a recipe that will lead to our defeat,” he said.

Speaking of McCain, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said: “It’s sort of hard to suddenly say everyone agrees Baker is the way to go when the leading Republican candidate for ’08 is saying no.”


Kristol added: “In the real world, the Baker report is now the vehicle for those Republicans who want to extricate themselves from Iraq, while McCain is articulating the strategy for victory in Iraq. Bush will have to choose, and the Republican Party will have to choose, in the very near future between Baker and McCain.”

“The report is preposterous, period,” said Kenneth R. Weinstein, chief executive of the Hudson Institute, about the proposal for a new dialogue with Iran and Syria. “Talking to them is not going to bring anything but a perception of American weakness.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described the report as a “strategic muddle,” Richard Perle called it “absurd,” and Rush Limbaugh labeled it “stupid.”

Baker has clearly been mindful of the criticism. He showed up on Thursday for a group interview with print reporters laughingly brandishing a copy of the New York Post from that morning, its headline blaring “Surrender Monkeys,” in reference to him and his Democratic co-chair Lee Hamilton.


Marty Peretz, the former editor of the New Republic, wrote: “The report states as axiomatic the assumption that if only Israel made some minor emendations to some of its historic policies – like accepting the ‘right of return’ of the Palestinian ‘refugees’ of whom there were less than 700,000 in 1948 and now maybe four million, five million, take your pick, to ‘go back’ to Israel in its 1949 lines – the bloodshed in Iraq would come to an end.

“This is utter nonsense. It’s worse than nonsense. It is mendacious and malicious. There is no logic behind it and no facts either. This is Baker’s old war with the Israelis and with the Jews, and it is scandalous that the commission’s Democrats and Republicans have gone along with this idea. The good news is that Jimmy Carter agrees with Baker, and the American public knows that Carter is a fool.”


Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, a longtime Washington ally, angrily rejected the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations, warning that any delay in deciding the fate of an oil-rich region claimed by the Kurds would have “grave consequences.”

Barzani, president of the 15-year-old autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, also faulted the U.S. bipartisan commission for not visiting his region, saying that was a “major shortcoming that adversely influenced the credibility of the assessment.”

“We will in no way abide by this report,” Barzani said.

(The Kurdish statement can be read in English as the second item here.)

Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites comprise about 80 percent of Iraq’s 26 million population. They suffered the most under Saddam’s ousted Sunni-led regime. The Kurds and Shiites are Iraq’s strongest proponents of federalism, enshrined in a new constitution adopted last year.


The Iraqi president also said yesterday (Sunday) that he rejected the Iraq Study Group report. “I think the Baker-Hamilton report is unfair and unjust,” Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, told a news conference at his Baghdad residence. “It contains very dangerous articles that undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and its constitution,” he said.


By contrast, several commentators in France have welcomed the report. German foreign policy experts have also praised it and expressed support if American policy changes course. Ruprecht Polenz (Christian Democratic Union), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel. “Without dealing with Iran’s and Syria’s interests, we will not achieve peace in Iraq. Such talks are an absolutely necessary step.”

The German Social Democratic Party deputy chair of the Committee, Hans-Ulrich Klose, said he agreed with him.


Leading British blogger Clive Davis (who also writes for the London Times) draws attention to interesting remarks made by Robert Kagan, interviewed in the latest issue of the (London) Spectator:

“If we started to pull out of Iraq or even pulled out, we’d be back in again within a year… as soon as it becomes clear that a terrorist organization based in Iraq is planning operations against the United States, which will certainly be the case, no American president can say well that’s just unfortunate.”

Kagan is scathing, though, about Bush’s handling of the war. He describes Bush as the “opposite of Lincoln,” noting that Lincoln regularly changed tactics and generals during the Civil War while Bush seems wedded to a failed strategy in Iraq. Kagan says that Bush’s determination to stick with the same number of troops and the same military leadership is “just baffling, baffling.”

On Iran, Kagan ruminates that Bush “may well feel that ‘I did not get elected President, did not live through 9/11, to be the President that allowed Iran to go nuclear on my watch.’” Kagan begins to articulate what a strike on Iran would have to do: take out its nuclear programme, its air force, its navy and destroy its command and control. At this point, he concludes that if America is going to do all this, it might as well change the regime while it is at it.


Israel believes Syria is preparing for war by stepping up missile production and deploying anti-tank rockets along the border, a senior intelligence official was quoted as saying yesterday (Sunday). General Yossi Beidetz, the head of Israel’s military intelligence research division, made these remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting, according to a source leaked to Ha’aretz. “Syria has learnt a lot from Hizbullah which managed to inflict a lot of damage to Israeli forces, especially its tanks and armored vehicles, by using guerrilla warfare,” he said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas led Friday prayers in Teheran. He arrived on Thursday for a four-day official visit, and was warmly welcomed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Earlier in the week Haniyeh met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

-- Tom Gross



Baker wants Israel excluded from regional conference
Insight Magazine
December 5-11, 2006

The White House has been examining a proposal by James Baker to launch a Middle East peace effort without Israel.

The peace effort would begin with a U.S.-organized conference, dubbed Madrid-2, and contain such U.S. adversaries as Iran and Syria. Officials said Madrid-2 would be promoted as a forum to discuss Iraq’s future, but actually focus on Arab demands for Israel to withdraw from territories captured in the 1967 war. They said Israel would not be invited to the conference.

“As Baker sees this, the conference would provide a unique opportunity for the United States to strike a deal without Jewish pressure,” an official said. “This has become the most hottest proposal examined by the foreign policy people over the last month.”

Officials said Mr. Baker’s proposal, reflected in the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, has been supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. The most controversial element in the proposal, they said, was Mr. Baker’s recommendation for the United States to woo Iran and Syria.

“Here is Syria, which is clearly putting pressure on the Lebanese democracy, is a supporter of terror, is both provisioning and supporting Hezbollah and facilitating Iran in its efforts to support Hezbollah, is supporting the activities of Hamas,” National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told a briefing last week. “This is not a Syria that is on an agenda to bring peace and stability to the region.”

Officials said the Baker proposal to exclude Israel from a Middle East peace conference garnered support in the wake of Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 25. They said Mr. Cheney spent most of his meetings listening to Saudi warnings that Israel, rather than Iran, is the leading cause of instability in the Middle East.

“He [Cheney] didn’t even get the opportunity to seriously discuss the purpose of his visit-that the Saudis help the Iraqi government and persuade the Sunnis to stop their attacks,” another official familiar with Mr. Cheney’s visit said. “Instead, the Saudis kept saying that they wanted a U.S. initiative to stop the Israelis’ attack in Gaza and Cheney just agreed.”

Under the Baker proposal, the Bush administration would arrange a Middle East conference that would discuss the future of Iraq and other Middle East issues. Officials said the conference would seek to win Arab support on Iraq in exchange for a U.S. pledge to renew efforts to press Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Golan Heights.

“Baker sees his plan as containing something for everybody, except perhaps the Israelis,” the official said. “The Syrians would get back the Golan, the Iranians would get U.S. recognition and the Saudis would regain their influence, particularly with the Palestinians.”

Officials said Mr. Baker’s influence within the administration and the Republican Party’s leadership stems from support by the president’s father as well as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Throughout the current Bush administration, such senior officials as Mr. Hadley and Ms. Rice were said to have been consulting with Brent Scowcroft, the former president’s national security advisor, regarded as close to Mr. Baker.

“Everybody has fallen in line,” the official said. “Bush is not in the daily loop. He is shocked by the elections and he’s hoping for a miracle on Iraq.”

For his part, Mr. Bush has expressed unease in negotiating with Iran. At a Nov. 30 news conference in Amman, Jordan, the president cited Iran’s interference in the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

“We respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their traditions,” Mr. Bush said. “I just have a problem with a government that is isolating its people, denying its people benefits that could be had from engagement with the world.”

Mr. Baker’s recommendation to woo Iran and Syria has also received support from some in the conservative wing of the GOP. Over the last week, former and current Republican leaders in Congress-convinced of the need for a U.S. withdrawal before the 2008 presidential elections-have called for Iranian and Syrian participation in an effort to stabilize Iraq.

“I would look at an entirely new strategy,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said. “We have clearly failed in the last three years to achieve the kind of outcome we want.”

In contrast, Defense Department officials have warned against granting a role to Iran and Syria at Israel’s expense. They said such a strategy would also end up undermining Arab allies of the United States such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.

“The regional strategy is a euphemism for throwing Free Iraq to the wolves in its neighborhood: Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia,” said the Center for Security Policy, regarded as being close to the Pentagon. “If the Baker regional strategy is adopted, we will prove to all the world that it is better to be America’s enemy than its friend. Jim Baker’s hostility towards the Jews is a matter of record and has endeared him to Israel’s foes in the region.”

But Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates, a former colleague of Mr. Baker on the Iraq Study Group, has expressed support for U.S. negotiations with Iran and Syria. In response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which begins confirmation hearings this week, Mr. Gates compared the two U.S. adversaries to the Soviet Union.

“Even in the worst days of the Cold War, the U.S. maintained a dialogue with the Soviet Union and China, and I believe those channels of communication helped us manage many potentially difficult situations,” Mr. Gates said. “Our engagement with Syria need not be unilateral. It could, for instance, take the form of Syrian participation in a regional conference.”



ISG must stand for, uh, Inane Strategy Guesswork
By Mark Steyn
Chicago Sun-Times
December 10, 2006,CST-EDT-steyn10.article

Well, the ISG – the Illustrious Seniors’ Group – has released its 79-point plan. How unprecedented is it? Well, it seems Iraq is to come under something called the “Iraq International Support Group.” If only Neville Chamberlain had thought to propose a “support group” for Czechoslovakia, he might still be in office. Or guest-hosting for Oprah.

But, alas, such flashes of originality are few and far between in what’s otherwise a testament to conventional wisdom. How conventional is the ISG’s conventional wisdom? Try page 49:

“RECOMMENDATION 5: The Support Group should consist of Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria...”

Er, OK. I suppose that’s what you famously hardheaded “realists” mean by realism. But wait, we’re not done yet. For this “Support Group,” we need the extra-large function room. Aside from Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait, the ISG – the Iraq Surrender Gran’pas – want also to invite:

“... the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf States...”

Er, OK. So it’s basically an Arab League meeting. Not a “Support Group” I’d want to look for support from, but each to his own. But wait, Secretary Baker’s still warming up:

“... the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council...”

That would be America, Britain, France, Russia, China. A diverse quintet, representing many distinctive approaches to international affairs from stylish hauteur to polonium-210. Anybody else?

“... the European Union...”

Hey, why not? It’s not really multilateral unless there’s a Belgian on board, right? Oh, and let’s not forget:

“... the Support Group should call on the participation of the United Nations Secretary-General in its work. The United Nations Secretary-General should designate a Special Envoy as his representative...”

Indeed. But it needs to be someone with real clout, like Benon Sevan, the former head of the Oil for Food Program, who recently, ah, stepped down; or Maurice Strong, the Under-Secretary-General for U.N. Reform and godfather of Kyoto, who for one reason or another is presently on a, shall we say, leave of absence; or Alexander Yakovlev, the senior procurement officer for U.N. peacekeeping, who also finds himself under indictment – er, I mean under-employed. There’s no end of top-class talent at the U.N., now that John Bolton’s been expelled from its precincts.

So there you have it: an Iraq “Support Group” that brings together the Arab League, the European Union, Iran, Russia, China and the U.N. And with support like that who needs lack of support? It worked in Darfur, where the international community reached unanimous agreement on the urgent need to rent a zeppelin to fly over the beleaguered region trailing a big banner emblazoned “YOU’RE SCREWED.” For Dar4.1, they can just divert it to Baghdad.

Oh, but lest you think there are no minimum admission criteria to James Baker’s “Support Group,” relax, it’s a very restricted membership: Arabs, Persians, Chinese commies, French obstructionists, Russian assassination squads. But no Jews. Even though Israel is the only country to be required to make specific concessions – return the Golan Heights, etc. Indeed, insofar as this document has any novelty value, it’s in the Frankenstein-meets-the-Wolfman sense of a boffo convergence of hit franchises: a Vietnam bug-out, but with the Jews as the designated fall guys. Wow. That’s what Hollywood would call “high concept.”

Why would anyone – even a short-sighted incompetent political fixer whose brilliant advice includes telling the first Bush that no one would care if he abandoned the “Read my lips” pledge – why would even he think it a smart move to mortgage Iraq’s future to anything as intractable as the Palestinian “right of return”? And, incidentally, how did that phrase – “the right of return” – get so carelessly inserted into a document signed by two former secretaries of state, two former senators, a former attorney general, Supreme Court judge, defense secretary, congressman, etc. These are by far the most prominent Americans ever to legitimize a concept whose very purpose is to render any Zionist entity impossible. I’m not one of those who assumes that just because much of James Baker’s post-government career has been so lavishly endowed by the Saudis that he must necessarily be a wholly owned subsidiary of King Abdullah, but it’s striking how this document frames all the issues within the pathologies of the enemy.

And that’s before we get to Iran and Syria. So tough-minded and specific when it comes to the Israelis, Baker turns to mush when it comes to Assad assassinating his way through Lebanon’s shrinking Christian community or Ahmadinejad and the mullahs painting the finish trim on the Iranian nukes. Syria, declare the Surrender Gran’pas, “should control its border with Iraq.” Gee, who’dda thunk o’ that other than these geniuses?

Actually, Syria doesn’t need to “control its border with Iraq.” Iraq needs to control its border with Syria. And, as long as the traffic’s all one way (because Syria’s been allowed to subvert Iraq with impunity for three years), that suits Assad just fine. The Surrender Gran’pas assert that Iran and Syria have “an interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq.” This, to put it mildly, is news to the Iranians and Syrians, who have concluded that what’s in their interest is much more chaos in Iraq. For a start, the Americans get blamed for it, which reduces America’s influence in the broader Middle East, not least among Iran and Syria’s opposition movements. Furthermore, the fact that they’re known to be fomenting the chaos gives the mullahs, Assad and their proxies tremendous credibility in the rest of the Muslim world. James Baker has achieved the perfect reductio ad absurdum of diplomatic self-adulation: he’s less rational than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If they’re lucky, this document will be tossed in the trash and these men and women will be the laughingstocks of posterity. But, if it’s not shredded and we embark down this path, then the Baker group will be emblematic of something far worse. The “Support Group” is a “peace conference,” and Baker wants Washington to sue for terms. No wonder Syria is already demanding concessions from America. Which is the superpower and which is the third-rate basket-case state? From the Middle Eastern and European press coverage of the Baker group, it’s kinda hard to tell.



Giuliani calls idea of quitting Iraq ‘terrible mistake’
By Eli Lake
The New York Sun
December 7, 2006

Mayor Giuliani resigned from the Iraq Study Group when it became clear that signing the group’s report would politicize its findings and conflict with his likely presidential run in 2008.

When asked yesterday by The New York Sun, the mayor said he had not read the report’s recommendations but that some of those he had heard about on television sounded “useful.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Giuliani’s views on the war are in contrast to the Iraq Study Group’s conclusions. The extent of Mr. Giuliani’s disagreement with the bipartisan group’s Iraq policy recommendations, published yesterday, was made clear in remarks he made to a talk-show host, Dennis Prager, on Tuesday.

“The idea of leaving Iraq, I think, is a terrible mistake,” the former mayor said. The group’s report, however, stresses that America should not make an “open-ended” commitment of troops and links the presence of troops to milestones met by the Iraqi government.

Mr. Giuliani also rejected the panel’s recommendation that America tie the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict to stabilizing Iraq. When asked about this linkage on Mr. Prager’s radio show, Mr. Giuliani said, “Israel and Palestine is an important issue. Sometimes it’s used as an excuse to deal with underlying issues. But the reality here is that the Islamo-fundamentalist terrorists are at war with our way of life, with our modern world, with rights for women, religious freedom, societies that have religious freedom. And all of that would still exist, no matter what happens in Israel and Palestine.”

The stark difference between the position of Mr. Giuliani, who left the Iraq Study Group this summer, and that of the rest of the group – which is headed by a former secretary of state, James Baker, and a former congressman, Lee Hamilton – indicates that the greater political world is less agreed on the group’s 79 recommendations than are the group’s five Republicans and five Democrats.

Indeed, Mr. Giuliani is not the only potential presidential candidate who is dissenting from the report, which was released yesterday. In a conference call yesterday, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a possible 2008 presidential contender, Senator Biden, a Democrat of Delaware, said that while the panel got some big questions right, he would nonetheless hold bipartisan hearings in the next Congress to “complete the work of the Baker-Hamilton commission.”

The report rejected Mr. Biden’s proposal to allow Iraq to devolve into a federalist system of three states for Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and Kurds.

“It is no longer a question of whether we stay in Iraq, but when and how we leave,” Mr. Biden added yesterday.

Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona, also offered a critical assessment of some of the group’s recommendations. He called the linkage of the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict to the violence in Iraq “tenuous at best.”

Mr. McCain also rejected the panel’s call for a regional diplomatic conference on Iraq involving Iran and Syria. “Our interests in Iraq diverge significantly from those of Damascus and Tehran, and this is unlikely to change under the current regimes,” he said.

In the report, the group said one of the inducements America should offer Iran is to drop its policy of regime change.

But Mr. McCain appeared most concerned about the panel’s placing of a time line of early 2008 to begin redeploying American combat troops stationed in Iraq. “By placing a limited timeframe on our military commitments, we would only induce Iraqis to side with militias that will stay indefinitely, rather than with the U.S. and government of Iraq,” he said. “Such a step would only complicate our considerable difficulties.”

For his part, Mr. Giuliani told the Sun that he had not read the group’s final report. He did say, however, that he thought some of the recommendations were “useful.”

“The goal has to be an accountable, responsible government in Iraq that diffuses terrorism rather than promotes it, and if the president keeps that goal the same, then I think maybe not all of these recommendations – I can’t imagine all of them will be implemented – but some of them will be very, very useful,” Mr. Giuliani told the Sun.

That last point is likely to chafe his former colleagues in the study group, who yesterday urged President Bush to adopt their recommendations in full, stressing that theirs was the only bipartisan set of recommendations he was likely to receive.

Nonetheless, Mr. Baker made clear that the report only represents suggestions that, at the end of the day, are not binding. “This is not legislation or an executive order,” he said. “This does not bind leadership on the hill or the president. But it is the only recommended approach that will enjoy complete bipartisan support.”

Another important voice yesterday seemed to be backing away from adopting the report’s recommendations completely – that of Mr. Bush. Before a meeting with congressional leaders, he praised the seriousness of the report and its bipartisan process. But he added a caveat: “Not all of us around the table agree with every idea. But we do agree that it shows that bipartisan consensus on important issues is possible.”

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.