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IA(R) MidEast Officer Ray Close: on "Iraq: A Broader Perspective?

IA(R) MidEast Officer Ray Close: on "Iraq: A Broader Perspective?

Dear Friends:

       This is an expanded and more explanatory version of a
       confidential memorandum that I sent last week to my fellow
       members on the "working" level of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study
       Group (ISG).  (Which is not to imply that the principals are not
       working very hard, too!  They most certainly are!)

       We have been strictly enjoined not to disclose to anyone outside
       the ISG group any details about the proceedings, but there is no
       prohibition against expressing our personal opinions to anyone
       we please.  Several of my colleagues have authored op-ed pieces
       and been interviewed extensively on radio or TV --- including
       Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton themselves, of course.  So there is
       no reason not to share the following personal views with you. _
       Your suggestions and criticisms would be most welcome!_

       Unfortunately, our deliberations have been degenerating lately
       into petty squabbling over picayune issues of tactics, and I'm
       afraid I show that I have I lost my patience a little bit here.
       Some of our most obstinate neocon diehards are still trying to
       fashion a strategy that is no more than an ersatz version of
       "stay the course until we achieve victory".  They have been
       wasting our time, in my view.

       The good news is that I have already received positive feedback
       indicating that the strategy I suggest here is being seriously
       discussed with a few open-minded members of the present
       administration, encouraged by some senior Republican veterans of
       the Bush 41 era and by some influential American supporters of
       Israel who are blessed with long-range vision. Hopes that the
       strategy will be adopted by Bush 43 policy makers, however,
       remain slim, I'm afraid.  But my intent is to encourage the ISG
       at least to recognize that the road to relative stability in the
       Middle East, rather than running "from Baghdad to Jerusalem", as
       the Bush Administration has always advertised, just_ MIGHT_
       start out through Jerusalem and from there wind its way eastward
       to Baghdad.  In my opinion, and in the opinion of every
       experienced Middle East specialist that I trust, the latter
       approach makes infinitely more sense. Certainly the opposite
       notion,  that "victory" in Iraq would somehow facilitate an
       equally triumphant solution in Palestine, has been totally
       discredited.  The time has come for a careful reappraisal of our
       whole concept of how to restore American credibility and
       influence in the region.

       Note:  Where I refer below to the ISG "principals", I mean Jim
       Baker, Lee Hamilton, Sandra Day O'Connor, Bob Gates, Ed Meese,
       Chuck Robb, Leon Panetta, William Perry, et al.

       --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       ISG Colleagues:

       I'm tired of nit-picking over how we should bully the Iraqis
       into becoming better citizens of their own country.

       We need to concentrate on the mission assigned to us by the ISG
       principals, which is to devise a means of extricating America
       from this quagmire with some semblance of honor, leaving behind
       a situation that will allow the Iraqi people some modicum of
       hope for peace and stability.  That's becoming a problem of
       staggering proportions, of course, but one that demands that we
       all step back and take a broader and more objective view of the
       situation, preferably on a regional scale.

       For example, the principals don't need to be told again and
       again how important it is to disarm the sectarian militias in
       Baghdad, because we all know that's a task that the present
       Iraqi leadership lacks both the military means and the political
       will to undertake.  It is an Iraqi internal problem that
       certainly cannot be solved by the United States through the use
       of massive firepower, or (as we are seeing more clearly every
       day) by imperious jawboning.

       We all need to broaden the scope of our vision if we are going
       to come up with some fresh ideas that will help our own
       government escape the fog of confusion in which American
       diplomacy is wandering helplessly throughout the entire Middle
       East at present.

       In other words, we need to change both the intellectual and the
       diplomatic environments in which the United States Government
       approaches what is becoming a catastrophe of global and historic
       proportions.

       We need to propose a completely new policy initiative.  The
       initiative that I want to table is (I would be the first to
       acknowledge) quite possibly beyond the imagination and the
       political capabilities (and the courage?) of the present
       administration  --- even to contemplate, much less to implement.
       The White House and the Pentagon won't like it at all.  That
       should not deter us, however.  With tact and courtesy, it can,
       and must, be presented as a non-partisan, or rather bi-partisan,
       suggestion.

       My suggestion is that we should subsume the Iraq problem within
       a larger set of regional issues, and treat the stabilization of
       Iraq as only one part of a new grand strategy for the Middle
       East as a whole.  We need to change the frames of reference and
       to start the discussion all over again in a way that will enlist
       the interest and the support of some parties in the region who
       are presently doing nothing positive to help the situation, and
       are enjoying the spectacle of American disgrace and humiliation
       --- but who have vital national interests that will be seriously
       endangered by our failure.  And that's where we are headed ---
       straight toward a trainwreck that will hurt many more
       governments and individuals than just the United States and the
       poor Iraqi people.

       The process should start with the launching of a major
       initiative, promoted and vigorously supported by the United
       States, to reach a comprehensive resolution to the Israel-Arab
       crisis through a process of reasonable compromise and
       accommodation between Israel and its Arab neighbors.   I believe
       that a fair and equitable solution to that problem,_ in which
       each interested party would be made to feel that its most vital
       concerns were recognized and accommodated_, would be welcomed
       and supported by the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, the great
       majority of Arab states, and even Iran and Syria --- if
       structured with imagination and political courage, and if
       objectivity and a commitment to fairness were demonstrated by
       the President of the United States.  Those who would not lend
       their active support would at least be reluctant to oppose a
       strategy that promised justice along with peace and stability.

       An appropriate starting-point for renewed negotiations has
       already been provided in the Arab Peace Initiative originally
       proposed by King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia in March 2002, to
       which no less than twenty-two Arab states subscribed. _ There is
       nothing in those sensible and reasonable proposals that is
       nearly as threatening to the safety and security of Israel as is
       the fresh hostility generated by Israeli and American treatment
       of the struggling Palestinian administration that was chosen in
       free and democratic elections last year.  The Arab Initiative is
       a positive and constructive starting-point._

       _Despite recent events, the astounding reality is that the
       Israeli-Palestinian problem, intractable as it has always seemed
       over the past half century, nevertheless appears to be an easier
       problem to solve right now, today, than the one we face in Iraq,
       and the threat that we (and Israel) both potentially face from a
       nuclear Iran.  Anyone who throws up his hands and loudly
       protests that solving the Israeli-Arab issue is out of the
       question and absurdly unrealistic had better ask himself if
       Israel's long-term security requirements would be better served
       by accommodation today than by nuclear exchange ten years from
       now.  Against every objection to this approach, try balancing
       the long list of Catch-22s facing us in Iraq!_

       The launching of such an effort could completely change the
       political environment everywhere in the region, and might focus
       the world's attention on the pursuit of positive and
       constructive goals rather than merely on the approaching
       collapse and ignominious failure of the American enterprise in
       Iraq.

       Difficult?  Of course!  Impossible?  Perhaps, given the
       resistance that it would encounter from those who have no faith
       whatsoever in the rationality of any inhabitant of the region
       outside of Israel.  But certainly MUCH more hopeful than
       sticking stubbornly to the clumsy and incoherent and futile
       pursuit of "victory" in Iraq,  and obstinate refusal to interact
       with our real and potentially very dangerous adversaries in
       Iran, Syria and Palestine.

       And do you know who would benefit most from this strategy?
       Those Israelis and American Jews  who hope to see the Zionist
       dream endure for more than a couple more decades.

       As a bonus, a fresh new approach like this might take some heat
       off of the beleagered Iraqi leadership --- providing them with
       some much-needed breathing-space to get their act in order ---
       something they will _never_ achieve while they are feeling a hot
       spotlight of criticism focused on them from Bush, Congress, the
       Pentagon and the Green Zone.

       Ray Close

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