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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Trouble with the Baker-Hamilton Study

By Ilana Freedman
The Iraq Study Group Report is one of the most naïve and potentially dangerous documents to impact United States policy in many years. The alarming scope of the panel’s ignorance of Middle East realities is made all the more alarming by the respected reputations of those who sat on the panel. They included two former White House Chiefs of Staff, advisors to several presidents, a retired Supreme Court Judge, a former Secretary of State, and several academics and think tank executives.

Significantly absent from this commission, however, was anyone with military expertise or experience, with real and recent knowledge of the current situation in Iraq. Considering that America’s involvement in Iraq has been first and foremost a military one, this omission is singularly glaring and it casts a long shadow on the findings. This may explain some of the more serious shortcomings of this report, but it does not lessen the dangers that the report will represent if it is accepted as a reasonable analysis and absorbed into policy.

This is very clear in the very first pages of the report, which refers to “the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq”. In reality, Iran has been one of the key drivers of Iraq’s increasing instability since the beginning of America’s military involvement in Iraq in 2003. As an element of their national policy, they have offered safe haven, training, and military support to terrorists bound for operations in Iraq. They have flooded Iraq with billions of counterfeit US dollars aimed at destabilizing the local economy, and have provided major military and financial support to terrorist groups within the country. Anyone who has studied the strategic implications of policy changes in Iraq should know this.

Yet the Study Group recommends that “Iran should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq”, displays a shocking lack of understanding of the forces that drive the conflict. Iran has no interest in a stable region or a strong Iraq, but rather seeks to dominate the entire Muslim world. When the panel suggests that the United States try to “engage [Iran and Syria] constructively”, they ignore Iran’s vested interest in destabilizing the region.

The report also ignores the harsh lessons of history. The patterns of pre-World War II Germany are now playing out again in Iran. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made his game plan clear, just as Hitler did more than 80 years ago. As early as 1919, Hitler was publicly asserting his ideas about “racial purity” and reserving his greatest venom for the Jews, whom he made it clear needed to be “eliminated”.

The world did not pay attention then, and Hitler did exactly as he said he would. The six million Jews who were murdered represented 25% of the civilian casualties of the war in Europe. Today, as Ahmadinejad develops his nuclear arsenal while unabashedly calling for the total destruction of the state of Israel and its six million Jews, his message is abundantly clear. Yet this point is totally disregarded by the panel.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad has also declared - in letters and speeches - that the West must follow the path of Allah or "vanish from the face of the earth". These are words that must be taken at face value. In a worst case scenario, they will be there to remind us that we were warned. A student of Islam knows that warnings are a part of the tradition of Mohammed, and are declared today as a prelude to war. The fact that these warnings have not been taken into account by the Study Group is reason for great concern. Like Chamberlain, the panel embraces diplomacy while ignoring the threats and clear warnings of the enemy who preaches the destruction of our nation. As Iran moves purposefully towards the acquisition of nuclear power, the ominous threat of a nuclear war looms large. Ahmadinejad has issued thinly veiled threats of his goal in this regard and we ignore at our peril. A nuclear bomb delivered against one of Iran’s precieved will mark the beginning of a world war unlike anything we have ever seen.

The report shows a stunning lack of interest or concern for Israel’s place in the Middle East. It calls for a direct talks between Israel and Syria to “deal directly with the Middle East conflict.” But it then provides a list of eight fanciful assumptions that includes “verifiable cessation” of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and arms shipments for Hamas, and a Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist. The end result, according to the report, will be a full and secure peace agreement. The idea that Syria will agree to any of this denies Syria’s close alliance with Iran, its history of supplying arms, ammunition, funds, a logistical support to the Hezbollah to support their terrorist activities against Israel.

Nevertheless, the panel has recommended that in return for these naïve and simplistic demands, Israel will return the strategic Golan Heights, that overlook its entire northern region, to Syria, with the promise of a U.S. security guarantee and an international force on the borders. Given Israel's past disastrous experience with security guarantees and international forces, it is hardly reasonable to expect them to stake their very survival on such promises. They also ignore the massive support of Iran and Syria, or, no less alarming, the continued movement of long-range missiles to Syria’s border with Israel.

Finally, the panel’s urgent call for US withdrawal from Iraq is both uninformed and dangerous. Given Iran’s consistent and deadly meddling in Iraq, US withdrawal would do more to destabilize the region than any other single act. It could throw the Middle East into a war on several fronts that could merge into a conflagration unlike anything we have yet seen in the region. And it would inflame Islamists around the globe to take up the sword in jihad.

The historical record shows that the Study Group’s assumptions are simplistic at best and, more to the point, they are dangerously lacking realistic perspective. While they have raised serious questions about issues which are in urgent need of discussion and resolution, their lack of knowledge about the complex cultures and issues of the Middle East or the ramifications of Western actions there should disqualify this report from playing any significant role in developing foreign policy.

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