Pro Forma Remarks on the Baker Commission Report

PRO FORMA REMARKS ON THE BAKER COMMISSION REPORT…..I can’t very well say nothing about the Baker-Hamilton report, can I? On the other hand, I’m sort of shaking my head trying to figure out anything I ought to say about it. But let’s take a look anyway.

It calls for a five-fold increase in trainers for the Iraqi military and police, which sounds like a reasonable proposal except for one thing: it’s too obvious. If this is such a good idea, why hasn’t the military already done it? Or at least planned to do it?

Baker is claiming that the report doesn’t set out a timeline, but the report itself is replete with references to “milestones” that have to be met if the Iraqi government wants the U.S. to stay engaged. What’s more, the report says all combat brigades should be out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008. What am I missing? In what way isn’t this a timeline?

And what’s this about keeping 70,000 non-combat troops in Iraq pretty much forever? That got a unanimous blessing from the commission members? I think that tells you more about who was eligible for the commission than it does about whether this is a good idea.

And then there’s this:

Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq?s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation….Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq.

Yes, I suppose Iran and Syria should do these things. And I should probably lose 30 pounds too. But what’s going to make it happen? There’s not even a hint that there’s anything the United States should offer in return for this help.

Etc. I’ll continue reading and listening, and I guess I’ll concede that the report is more reality-based than the Bush administration, which represents at least a little bit of progress. Though I suspect James Joyner is pretty much right when he says resignedly that nobody is likely to take the recommendations very seriously: “It used to be said that politics ended at the water?s edge; it has been many years since that was a reflection of reality. Both sides will use the Report to seek political cover for what they want to do but I suspect they will continue to bludgeon their opponents over the war.”

UPDATE: Greg Djerejian emails to suggest I’m being unfairly dismissive about the report’s diplomatic section, especially as it relates to Syria and Iran. He has a point. On page 51, the report does mention a few concrete carrots, including WTO accession, diplomatic relations, and a generally friendlier U.S. policy toward Iran (i.e., one that doesn’t emphasize regime change and bombing missions). And God knows I’m not opposed to a serious diplomatic approach in the Middle East. On the other hand, there’s this:

Our limited contacts with Iran?s government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran.

Nevertheless, as one of Iraq?s neighbors Iran should be asked to assume its responsibility to participate in the Support Group. An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran?s rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran?s refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks.

Maybe this is just a realistic assessment. But it suggests to me more a pro forma approach designed to isolate Iran than a serious diplomatic offensive that truly aims to win their cooperation.

But I could be wrong.