Monday, November 13, 2006

# Posted 10:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE ON THE IRAQ STUDY GROUP: President Bush met today with today with Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton and other members of the Iraq Study Group. More than two weeks ago, Michael Rubin argued in the Weekly Standard that the Baker Group, habitually described by the press as "bipartisan", is stacked to favor the personal preferences of its chairmen. Rubin says:
Take the [Baker Group's] four subordinate expert working groups: Baker and Hamilton gerrymandered these advisory panels to ratify predetermined recommendations. While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.
The agenda being advanced by the Baker Group is the gun-shy realism of its namesake. Rubin reminds us that Baker negotiated the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the Lebanese civil war by turning Lebanon over to Syrian military rule. Rubin also reminds us that Baker did nothing to stop Saddam from gunning down the Kurdish and Shi'ite rebels that President Bush 41 had encouraged to overthrow Saddam.

I'm going to keep an open mind about the Baker Group until I know, but I am certainly suspicious of Baker's brand of realism. Yet the fact remains that both Democrats as well as numerous Republicans are becoming increasingly amenable to solutions that get the United States out of Iraq regardless of what price the Iraqi people will have to pay.

For a more positive view of the Baker Group, take a look at Ryan Lizza's cover story in TNR [subscription only]. Lizza writes that:
With little fanfare, Baker has become America's shadow secretary of state, boasting an Iraq portfolio broader than that of anyone actually serving in the administration...
After helping Bush win [in 1988] , [Baker] was again handsomely compensated, this time with the post of secretary of state, where he spent a consequential four years managing the end of the cold war, the reunification of Germany, and the Gulf war.
In light of TNR's well-known idealism, it's somewhat surprising that Baker's record as Secretary of State gets so airbrushed. If nothing else, TNR should remind its readers of Baker's insistence that the United States had no interest in preventing mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.

But Lizza doesn't go soft on Baker, subjecting him to psychoanalysis rather than policy analysis:
Loyalty and ideology are only part of the Baker DNA. What he really craves is respect. The Bushes set Baker on his path to power, helping him become White House chief of staff, secretary of the Treasury, and secretary of state; but they have, at other times, undercut Baker's vainglorious self-image by dragging him into what he regarded as gutter-level political assignments--most recently, during the 2000 Florida recount, in which he successfully managed Bush's victory.

Those who know Baker insist that his vanity will ultimately triumph. "What's important about the psychology of James Baker is that he wants to be remembered as a statesman, not a political hack," says a former aide who worked closely with Baker for several years. "That's why the Iraq Study Group is perfect for him. ... He does not want the first line written about him in his obituary to be, 'James Baker, the man who delivered the contested election to George W. Bush.'" If the Bush 41-Bush 43 psychodrama got us into Iraq, it may be the Bush-Baker psychodrama that gets us out.
So what does all of this mean for the Study Group? Lizza writes:
[Baker] has repeatedly criticized the "stay the course" option associated with Bush. What's left are probably two options more associated with the center-left foreign policy establishment. The first is a modified version of the withdrawal plan proposed by the Center for American Progress's Lawrence Korb, which the Baker Commission refers to as "Redeploy and Contain." Troops would be moved into neighboring countries, where they would only be used for quick strikes against terrorists in Iraq, and the administration would concentrate on international diplomacy, including talks with Iran and Syria, to solve Iraq's political problems.

The other option leaked is "Stability First," a cousin of the plan proposed by Kenneth Pollack at the Brookings Institution. It would focus the lion's share of U.S. troops on stabilizing Baghdad and turning it into a model for the rest of Iraq, a move that would, the thinking goes, start to change perceptions about the occupation and smooth the path toward national reconciliation and an oil-sharing agreement.
I'm curious to hear more about the options. The first one sounds like a retreat with a bit of tough language cover, but perhaps it will pave the way to something that is actually new. The second options sounds hopeless, unless additional US troops keep the rest of Iraq under control during the struggle for Baghdad.

I guess we'll see soon enough where all of this is headed.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Speaking of Bush, you might want to have a look at this.
All about Bush
Speaking of Bush, you might want to look at this page.

The machinations that you are talking about are intramural, more to do with the Bush family than with any changes brought by the election. It's been pointed out already that Baker was always going to wait for Rumsfeld to get the ax. You can infer from this that Cheney has been shoved aside as well.

W may have another tantrum before settling down and taking a nap. Then the adults are going to take over from the children and try to fix things.
That second option sounds to me like those who want Iraq to be the next Vietnam have found their guy in James Baker.

Anonymous: Bush and Cheney are the elected leaders of our executive branch. They won't be shoved aside by anybody before January 20, 2009.
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