The Fixers: The Baker-Hamilton Report
What does it take a flock of former civil servants and politicos to travel half-way around the world put in black and white what is obvious to every observer: there are no good solutions to the Iraq debacle? The answer is that it has less to do with Iraq than politics on the Potomac.
Last spring, the Republicans admitted to themselves that they were going to take a beating in the House, and that they would likely lose control of the Legislative branch altogether. It seems to me that faction of Republicans in Congress collaborated with some centrist Democrats to dispatch the Baker-Hamilton Commission as a preemptive move to head off war between a future angry Democratic Congress and a defensive, self-righteous Administration.
The exercise recalls to me defense of Bill Clinton by Dale Bumpers: when a senior statesman is summoned to prevail upon the disputing parties to come to a level-headed decision, sparing the country much grief.
Meanwhile, Guillaume Parmentier, a French America watcher, weighs in:
Guillaume Parmentier, Director of the French Center for United States Studies at the French Institute of International Relations: “Iran and Syria could exact a high price for their cooperation”
LEMONDE.FR | 06.12.06 | 18h11 • Updated 06.12.06 | 18h23
Q. How do you interpret the statements of rapporteurs Baker and Hamilton of Wednesday, December 6th, after they presented their conclusions on the Iraq situation to President George W. Bush?
The statements were clearly meant to ground the debate in bipartisanship to prevent the Democrats and Republicans from trading accusations over responsibility for the predicament in which the United States now finds itself. We also see that President Bush has presented things in the same way, portraying himself out to be the defender of a non-partisan viewpoint, which might seem a bit strange to the Democrats, who had been treated by the Administration as an ignorable quantity before their victory in the mid-term elections.
The danger in the situation is that Democrats and Republicans, in other words, Congress and the Administration, may begin to play beggar thy neighbor, that is, each side presenting itself as bipartisan while attempting to blame the other for the undesirable outcome of the policies pursued until now. If the Democrats and the Republicans are unable to agree on an issue as serious as Iraq, it is clear that the United States will be unable to escape the problem in a way that will permit it to maintain prestige and sufficient influence in the Middle East. The stakes are extremely high.
Q. Will the conclusion of the Baker-Hamilton report have an impact on US policies in Iraq?
The proposals of the report do not engage Bush Administration or Congress. The report’s main proposals are focused on allowing the United States to withdraw in a gradual fashion, leaving responsibility for maintaining order to Iraqi forces. To reach this goal, the report recommends giving the Iraqi government the following choice: Either accept the proposals made by the United States or the Americans will accelerate their withdrawal; it is up to you to assume responsibility now. The hope is that facing such a choice, the Iraqi government will be frightened into acquiescing to the terms imposed by the United States.
The report therefore recommends a regional conference involving all parties: the countries that would be willing to help stabilize Iraq are implicitly Syria and Iraq. The problem is, at this stage of the game, that Iran and Syria will likely extract a high price for their assistance: Iran, making thorny demands concerning its nuclear aspirations, and Syria, demanding the lifting of the prohibition on interfering in Lebanese affairs.
Does recommending the involvement of Iran in stabilizing the region imply normalization of relations between the United States and Iran?
Normalization of relations with Iran is desirable, but cannot be carried out in such a way that the US is caught in the international consequences, which could be quite grave –nuclear armament and domination over a portion of Iraq. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the US is very restricted vis-à-vis Iran by powerful domestic politics –the US has not forgotten the humiliation inflicted by Iran in the hostage crisis during the Carter Administration.
Of course, any major policy shift by the US involves the question of relations between the Executive and the Legislative branches. On the one hand, it is true that the Administration wants to share with Congress the responsibility for a potential pullout of US forces from Iraq. On the other, it is undeniable that this constitutes a significant climbdown by an Administration that had set as its ambition the restoration of presidential authority to what it had been before the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were the principle exponents of this point of view. Rumsfeld's departure is therefore highly symbolic.
Interview conducted by Gaïdz Minassian