Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Bush Family Consigliere Goes To Iraq

Is Jim Baker bailing out the Bushes once again?

The former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, a confidant of President George H.W. Bush, visited Baghdad two weeks ago to take a look at the vexing political and military situation. He was there as co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, put together by top think tanks at the behest of Congress to come up with ideas about the way forward in Iraq. ...

Baker is not revealing much of his hand. He has indicated that recommendations will not be forthcoming until after the November elections, in an effort to keep the group above the political fray. He has also asked those involved in the study group -- members and staffers alike -- not to talk to the media, so most of those interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity. Baker's assistant said the co-chairman would not be available to be interviewed.

Baker has offered some hints of his thinking -- and his dismay with the way the Iraq occupation has been handled by the administration.

"The difficulty of winning the peace was severely underestimated," Baker wrote in a recent memoir, citing "costly mistakes" by the Pentagon. These included, he wrote, disbanding the Iraqi army, not securing weapons depots and "perhaps never having committed enough troops to successfully pacify the country."

But in an interview in the current issue of Texas Monthly, Baker dashed the idea of "just picking up and pulling out" of Iraq. "Even though it's something we need to find a way out of, the worst thing in the world we could do would be to pick up our marbles and go home," he said, "because then we will trigger, without a doubt, a huge civil war. And every one of the regional actors -- the Iranians and everybody else -- will come in and do their thing."

The study group appears to be struggling to find some middle ground between such a pullout and the administration's strategy of keeping a heavy American troop presence until the Iraqi government can maintain security on its own. ...

Some are skeptical that the president will be open to advice seeming to come from one of his father's top advisers. In some ways, Bush has distanced himself from the people and policies of the first Bush administration -- though Baker has been called on occasion to perform sensitive missions, such as heading the Bush campaign's efforts in the 2000 Florida recount and leading negotiations to provide debt relief to Iraq.

The administration's more hawkish supporters, meanwhile, are nervous about Baker's involvement, counting him as one of the "realist" foreign policy proponents they see as having allowed threats against the United States to grow in the '80s and '90s. Gary J. Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute voiced concern that the Iraq group was not listening to those advocating a more muscular military strategy to defeat the insurgency.

Publicly, the administration is supportive, though inside the foreign policy apparatus there appears to be skepticism that the Iraq Study Group will come up with any breakthroughs. At first, the administration was divided about whether to cooperate with the panel. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave her support only after being assured by officials with the federally funded U.S. Institute of Peace, under whose aegis the group was formed, and other think tanks involved in the project that the venture would be a forward-looking exercise and not an examination of past mistakes, according to people familiar with the project.


Blogger Peter Matthes said...

Pick up our marbles and go home??

I think someone has lost their marbles.

9/17/2006 2:15 PM  

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