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BAKER-HAMILTON STUDY: PLUSES AND MINUSES

Dear Bob,  you may wish to circulate this.  Best, Bill

William R. Polk

williamrpolk@post.harvard.edu

669 Chemin de la Sine

F-06140 Vence France

fax: +33-493 24 08 77


----------------------
THE
BAKER-HAMILTON STUDY: PLUSES AND MINUSES
The
most important positive element in the Baker-Hamilton study is to
focus attention on the central predicament of the Middle East ñ the
Arab-Israeli problem.  Like a cancer, this issue has infected Middle
Eastern affairs for over half a century.  No American administration
has chosen to attack it head-on.  Simply giving Israel a blank check
to do anything it decides to do is not an American policy.  Indeed, as
many thoughtful Israelis have pointed out, it is bound to bring out
the worst in Israeli politics.  For  alerting the government and the
public to the need to do something to solve or at least put into
remission this problem is important and for doing so Baker-Hamilton
deserves praise.


    However, there are two minuses on this issue:  Baker-Hamilton does
not give more than a hint as to what an intelligent American policy
would involve. The only concrete step it proposes is indirect ñ to
return the Golan Heights to Syria ñ in the hope that the Syrians will
then help persuade the Palestinians to opt for peace.  As in other
parts of Baker-Hamilton, this is to replace objectives or desires for
means to achieve them.  The Palestinians have their own agenda which
arise from such issues, which Baker-Hamilton does not address, as
illegal settlements, release of the 10,000 or so long-term prisoners
in Israeli camps, severe and growing restrictions on the ability of
Palestinians to work, move or even remain in their homes.  Land for
peace is a good slogan, but it is apparently not supported in Israel
and probably is no longer regarded as feasible by Palestinians.
Moreover, the explicit support for Mahmud Abbas rather than the group
that won the last election, HAMAS, will be seen by most Palestinians
as an attempt to divide them.  Finally, here as in the rest of the
study, Baker-Hamilton fails to lay out concrete steps much less
indicate what such steps would require, how much they would cost, what
the likelihood of success for each would be or indicate their
cumulative effect.  What they have done is merely to indicate a goal,
not the means to reach that goal.


    The second positive element in Baker-Hamilton is their suggestion
that America turn toward diplomacy in its relations with Iran and
Syria.


Baker-Hamilton put this suggestion in the context of Americaís desire
to solve the Iraq dilemma.  That is an understandable desire.  But it
is not a policy.  It does not lay out a means to achieve our desire.
Moreover, even the desire rests on intelligence appreciations that are
weak or even unlikely. Briefly put, they include these:  


First, why should Iran or even Syria wish to assist America in solving
the Iraq problem? Baker-Hamilton suggests that Syria be ìboughtî by
the return of the Golan Heights which the Syrians believe are legally
theirs, but there is little reason to believe that the Syrian
government puts so much emphasis on getting back the Golan Heights
that it would radically alter its policies.  Those policies arise in
part at least from considerations that have nothing to do with the
Golan Heights.  Any Syrian and most outside observers will affirm that
the lodestar of the Syrian government is fear of America.  Thus,
unless or until the United States forswears  its often repeated
proclamations that point toward invasion of Syria, change of its
regime, and ostracizing it for alleged support of terrorism, the
Syrians have insufficient reason to help America in any fashion.
Moreover, the Syrians observed that in the conflict between Lebanon
and Israel, the United States treated Israel as a surrogate military
force; so, whether right or wrong,  the Syrians would almost certainly
require some sort of guarantee that it will not use force itself or
allow Israel again do so before even considering helping the United
States even if, which is doubtful, it could in any appreciable degree
dampen the Iraqi insurgency or put a stop to the Palestinian
resistance.


Iran, similarly, must see that a solution to Americaís mistakes in
Iraq is more likely to be  detrimental than beneficial to its national
and governmental interests.  The Bush administration has repeatedly
told Iran that it is an enemy, the third member of the Axis of Evil, a
suitable candidate for preemptive attack.  Those set out what the Bush
administration wants.  What has held back is that it could not carry
out such an attack because it was bogged down in Iraq.  Would a
rational government wish to help America free up its military force
which might then be used to attack it? Baker-Hamilton substantiates
the Iranian belief that this is a possibility in its recommendation 18
which points to ìresources that might become available as combat
forces are moved from Iraq.î  


Second, even if Iran wished to help the United States solve the Iraqi
dilemma, could it do so?  Baker-Hamilton not only does not address
that question.  The probable answer is that it has far less leverage
in Iraq than Baker-Hamilton posit.  During the Iraq-Iran war, the
Iraqi Shiis fought determinedly against Iran.  Moreover, the Iraqi
Shiis are internally divided with many determined not to allow Iran to
determine their agenda.  Baker-Hamilton also fails to tell us what
specifically it would want Iran to do.  Presumably Baker-Hamilton
wants the Iranians to tell the Iraqi Shiis to do what America wants
them to do, but presumably the Iraqi Shiis do what they are doing from
their estimate of what is fundamental to their interests or even to
their survival.  If this is so, it is unlikely that Iran can lead them
to do otherwise.  The idea that they are simply the puppets of Iran is
based on an ignorance of history and current politics.  Even if
Baker-Hamilton believe America should make the attempt, it does not
lay out a plan specifying what America would be willing to do to get
Iran to act as it wishes.   Simply to invite Iran to a conference is
hardly a sufficient inducement.  As with Syria, America would have to
forswear in some meaningful way the threat of force.  And, more
difficult than with Syria, it would have to back off ñ and get Israel
to back off ñ from its statements and threats on Iranís acquisition of
a nuclear capacity.  Baker-Hamilton does not address these issues.  My
own belief is that the only feasible way they can be addressed now is
serious movement toward both general and regional nuclear arms
control.  Regional nuclear arms control must involve Israel which has
a huge nuclear arsenal.  Is forcing a reluctant Israel into giving up
some or all of its nuclear arsenal feasible for any American
government?  Baker-Hamilton does not even raise the question.


The third positive element in Baker-Hamilton is the admission that we
need to get out of Iraq.   The negative aspect of Baker-Hamilton is
that it does not realistically face what that means.  What it does,
understandably given its origin and composition, is to attempt reach a
compromise. Such compromises, of which diplomatic history affords many
examples, are attractive because they preserve reputations, cover over
mistakes and seem statesmanlike.  


</x-tad-smaller><x-tad-smaller>    Baker-Hamiltonís chosen move is
reduction of combat forces and their replacement by Iraqis.  This is
what the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon tried in
Vietnam.  In fact the numbers proposed are eerily similar.  But is
this a practical move in Iraq?   Was it in Vietnam?  Consider where we
are in Iraq, mired down in an unwinnable and wasting war and where we
were in Vietnam in 1968 when the Tet offensive had shown that what we
were doing militarily had failed. Thus, it appears logical to take
steps to adjust to that reality.  


    In our book, </x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>Out of Iraq: A
Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now
</x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller>(which was published shortly
before Baker-Hamilton)</x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>,
</x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller>George McGovern and I have
urged that this be done cleanly, clearly, definitively and over a six
months period.  Baker-Hamilton thinks that it should be done piecemeal
over a much longer but unspecified period.  Why?  Their argument is
that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war and without the restraining
hand of America troops there would be a bloodbath. Their proposal
would cut down on combat forces but keep a large American training and
advising force in Iraq.


    We believe that such a force would inevitably be drawn into the
fighting. In evaluating the Baker-Hamilton proposal, bear in mind that
in Vietnam force reduction did not stop the war: in fact, in the
following years as it was slowly implemented, almost 21,000 Americans
were killed and over 50,000 were seriously wounded.  Are Iraqi likely
to stop fighting while we slowly reduce our combat troops but keep a
significant presence of ìadvisersî to train ñ or as the insurgents
will charge, control -- Iraqi security forces?   We find that hope
highly unlikely.


    Baker-Hamilton appears to recognize the weakness of this hope and so
urges that while American combat units are reduced more attention be
given to improving the quality of the Iraqi army.  We strongly
disagree as we said in our plan.  Iraqi history shows that building an
army is a dangerous strategy.  It was, after all, the relative
strength of the Iraqi army vis-‡-vis such relatively weak institutions
as representative government, an independent judiciary, a free press
and ìgrass rootsî organizations that caused coup díÈtat after coup and
dictator after dictator.  Thus, in the quest for a short-term solution
to Americaís Iraqi dilemma, Baker-Hamilton may have opted for
long-term catastrophe.


    A less costly, more acceptable (to the Iraqis) and more
likely-to-succeed approach, Senator McGovern and I assert in our book
</x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan
for Withdrawal Now</x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller> is to
introduce into Iraq what we have called a ìstabilization force.î That
force, we  argue, must be made up of non-Americans, drawn from mainly
Arab and Muslim countries, working for the Iraq government but under
the umbrella of the United Nations, with an American financial
subvention.   This force would operate in Iraq during the transitional
period, when we can expect the current civil war to continue but also
to gradually wind down.  Is this just a pious hope?  We think not.  It
has happened in all guerrilla wars during the last two centuries.
Once the principal aim of the insurgents, usually to get the
foreigners to leave, is met, the insurgency abates.  Not immediately,
to be sure, to meaningfully.  During this period, with its sovereignty
assured, it needs help: help to create minimal public security for
schools, hospitals, government buildings etc. which is the role we
propose for the multinational stability force, help in building an
effective national police force, and help in getting the economy going
so that the unemployed can earn decent livings and a significant
portion of the refugees be lured back.


    During this period, we advocate that the Iraqi army, on which we are
spending $2.2 billion and which Baker-Hamilton finds (rightly) to be
dysfunctional, be converted into what Iraq really needs, an
organization somewhat like our Corps of Engineers.  Such a group could
provide the infrastructure on which an Iraqi economy could
reconstitute itself.  


    Overall, we have proposed a series of programs to accomplish our
objectives,  given estimates of cost, analyzed the chances of success,
provided a timetable, and shown how they would save the American tax
payers about 97% of what the occupation is now costing. That is, we
provide in our book exactly what Baker-Hamilton does not address, a
practical plan to get us out of Iraq with the least possible damage to
ourselves, to the Iraqis, and to Americaís position in world affairs.    

    

</x-tad-smaller><x-tad-smaller>A key proposal in Baker-Hamilton is a
regional conference. The idea of a regional conference sounds
appealing.  We all like the idea of sitting down together and
thrashing out our differences.  It appears sensible, positive,
practical and ìdiplomatic.î  But a review of all international
gatherings since the 1814 Congress of Vienna shows that a conference
is meaningless, or sometimes even counter-productive, unless
fundamental issues either have been resolved or at least narrowed
beforehand.  Merely to meet to discuss an issue which is worrying one
party but not the others, </x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>us
but not them, </x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller> is hardly a
recipe for success. Put bluntly, a conference is not the first step,
the means, but the last step, the ratification, of the process.  

</x-tad-smaller><x-tad-smaller>

    Baker-Hamilton states that there are four ìalternative approaches for
moving forwardîñ ìPrecipitate Withdrawal,î ìStaying the Course,î ìMore
Troops for Iraqî and ìDevolution to Three Regions.î  


    Baker-Hamilton rejects precipitate withdrawal.  We do too.  The word
ìprecipitate,î of course, gives the answer but obscures the question.
Everyone agrees that the United States must withdraw.  The question is
when and under what conditions.  In the action plan contained in
</x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan
for Withdrawal Now</x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller>, we lay out
a definite timetable and specify measures, each analyzed in terms of
cost, effectiveness and likelihood of success, designed to bring about
withdrawal in an orderly fashion with the least possible damage to
American soldiers and interests and to Iraqis.   


    President Bush has repeatedly called for ìstaying the courseî  which
Baker-Hamilton does not favor and recognizes will simply continue the
casualties and huge expenditures without positive result.  We agree.


    The third alternative is to send in more troops. Baker-Hamilton
believes that this will not work and will ìhamper our ability to
provide adequate resources for our efforts in Afghanistan or respond
to crises around the world.î  If we cannot control a small country,
most of which is uninhabited desert, or contain a guerrilla force
estimated at less than 20,000 with 150,000 American troops, it is just
wishful thinking to believe we can do it with another 10,000 or so
Americans.  We agree with Baker-Hamilton on this.  We also point to
the history of Vietnam where we were told, time after time, that just
a few tens of thousands more of American soldiers would bring victory.
Victory proved elusive but casualties were ever-present.

 

    The fourth scenario is to break up Iraq which, Baker-Hamilton
believes (in our opinion rightly) would be a political, military and
humanitarian disaster, which, should it happen,  would require that
the United States ìmanage the situation to ameliorate humanitarian
consequences, contain the spread of violence, and minimize regional
instability,î each of which is a likely result.  As Baker-Hamilton
rightly points out, the map showing Iraq divided into three areas is
misleading: virtually every town and all cities are mixed.  Thus, a
division of Iraq would literally tear the society apart and would so
ìbalkanizeî it as to sow the seeds for future wars. Certainly, an
independent Kurdistan would invite intervention from Turkey and
possibly also from Iran.  


    Implicit throughout Baker-Hamilton is that stability must be achieved
in Iraq
</x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>before</x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller> America
can leave.  History suggests that the sequence is wrong: only when the
central objective of insurgents, usually getting the foreigners to
leave, has been realized can ìsecurityî be attained.  This is the
lesson of insurgencies from the American Revolution against the
British, the Spanish
</x-tad-smaller><italic><x-tad-smaller>guerrilla</x-tad-smaller></italic><x-tad-smaller> against
the French, Titoís Yugoslav partisan war against the Germans, the
Algerian war of national liberation from the French and so on.  In
each of these wars, to be sure, there was a period of chaos
immediately after the foreigners pulled out -- they had been unable to
prevent chaos with their massive armies --  but, once they were gone,
the fighting died down.  

    Why did this happen and is it likely in Iraq?  The answer was given
to us by that great practitioner of guerrilla warfare, Mao Tse-tung:
there are two elements in guerrilla wars, he said, the combatants and
those who support them.  He called the combatants the ìfishî and their
supporters ìthe water.î  Without water, fish die.   What has happened
in guerrilla war after war is that the people, Maoís ìwater,î get
tired of the suffering that is inherent in guerrilla war and when the
object for which they have sacrificed has been won, they donít want to
continue to sacrifice.  So they stop supporting the ìfish.î  Then, one
of two things happens: either some of the fish take over the
government (which is the most common) and then themselves suppress the
more radical combatants (as happened in America, Spain, Ireland,
Yugoslavia, Algeria, etc.).  The second possible outcome is that the
combatants become outlaws or ìwarlordsî (as happened in Afghanistan
after the Afghans forced the Russians out).   This is already
happening under the guise of religious strife among Shia and Sunni
Muslims in Iraq.   Foreigners cannot prevent this; the only way it can
be prevented, or at least the only way it has ever been prevented or
stopped, is by natives.   They can be helped, however, as we have
urged in our plan with an international stabilization force during the
period when a national police, no longer tainted by appearing to be
collaborators with foreigners, become functional.   In short,
sovereignty is the first, not the last step in the process.  Once
sovereignty, not just a collaborationist government, is established,
the steps lead (and can be helped to move with all deliberate speed)
toward security.


    That is why the plan we have proposed contains the interlocking
elements that together constitute
Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan
for Withdrawal Now
William R. Polk taught at
Harvard from 1955 to 1961 when he was appointed the member of the
State Departmentís Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle
East.  In 1965 he became professor of history at the University of
Chicago where he founded its Middle Eastern Studies Center.
Subsequently, he also became president of the Adlai Stevenson
Institute of International Affairs.  Among his books are The United States and the Arab
World; the Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century;
Neighbors and Strangers: the Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs;
Understanding Iraq; and
together with Senator George McGovern, the just published
Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan
for Withdrawal Now.
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