Baker To Bush: Game Over
November 30, 2006
Robert Dreyfuss is an Alexandria, Va.-based writer specializing in politics and national security issues. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005), a contributing editor at The Nation, and a writer for Mother Jones, The American Prospect and Rolling Stone. He can be reached through his website, www.robertdreyfuss.com.
Today’s report that the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, will call for a pullback of American combat forces in Iraq is the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq. Stripped of its diplomatic weasel words, the ISG’s recommendations are a stunning blow to the administration of George W. Bush and everything it stands for. “We had to move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out,” said one of the ISG’s commission members, according to The New York Times.
Faced with the ISG consensus, backed by a determined Democratic majority in Congress that was catapulted into power by an American electorate sick of the war, President Bush will have no choice but to capitulate. Early in 2007, American troops will start to come home. War-weary, mainstream Republicans, eager to get Iraq off the table before the 2008 elections, will strongly support the ISG’s exit strategy. It marks a sweeping, irreversible change of course for American foreign policy, and a death blow to Vice President Dick Cheney and the remaining, but dwindling population of neoconservatives inside the administration.
Adding insult to injury, the policy will be carried out by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, a former member of the ISG, who will purge the Pentagon of neocons, Rumsfeld loyalists, and assorted other extremists.
The ISG’s decision, which will be officially announced on December 6, represents a formal recognition by the American foreign policy establishment that Bush’s criminally misguided war of aggression in Iraq is lost. A war that was meant to demonstrate to the world the shock and awe of American power is ending as proof positive that the United States is too weak to subdue a fragmented nation of 25 million. A war that was meant to secure a preeminent place for the United States in the oil-rich Persian Gulf is ending with America in full retreat, leaving a shattered Iraq, a resurgent Iran, and a Saudi Arabia that is angry, bitter and disgusted with American bungling. A war that was meant to enhance Israel’s regional might is ending with what is likely, now, to be a reinvigorated push for a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian issue that will come at Israel’s expense—in Syria, in Lebanon, and in the Occupied Territories.
It is a war that has alienated America’s allies, emboldened its adversaries and rivals, inflamed its enemies and eviscerated its prestige. With each day that U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, each one of those effects is amplified. By supporting an end to the war, the Iraq Study Group has decided, at least, to stop the bleeding.
It is, however, too late to stop the bleeding in Iraq. Six hundred thousand dead Iraqis later, the United States will depart from Iraq leaving behind a nation whose citizens will be struggling to rebuild their society for decades. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is a war crime of the first magnitude, an illegal war that destroyed a nation that had never attacked the United States, that did not have any weapons of mass destruction, that did not have any ties to al-Qaida, that had no connection to the September 11 attacks, and which—at the start of the war—was a small, impoverished country with a decimated army. The civil war in Iraq may indeed get worse, and it may last for years. Each and every one of those deaths will be on George W. Bush’s conscience—if, in fact, the Bible-thumping hypocrite has any conscience left.
Even as the grown-ups in Washington scrambled to find a formula to end the war, Bush was reeling through another foreign trip like a manic Captain Queeg. “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete,” Bush ranted in Latvia, where he embarrassed America once again at a NATO summit. “We can accept nothing less than victory.” Departing Latvia, Bush bumbled into Amman, Jordan. There, he was humiliated by Nouri al-Maliki, the powerless and ineffectual prime minister of Iraq, who decided he had more important things to do than to keep a dinner appointment with the president of the United States. (With Bush sufficiently humbled, they will meet today.)
The wreckage of Bush’s Middle East policy sprawls in front of him. As Jordan’s King Abdullah impolitely pointed out, the Middle East faces not one, but three separate civil wars: Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The megalomaniacal Iranian ayatollahs are flexing their muscle throughout the region, training Shiite rebels in Iraq, backing Hezbollah in Lebanon and pressuring the Arab kleptocracies of the Gulf. A surly Israel is stiff-arming the Palestinians, even as it threatens Lebanon and Syria and issues dark warnings about bombing Iran’s nuclear installations. Afghanistan is spiraling out of control. Pakistan could fall any day to radical-right Islamists and careen toward war with India. The Bush record in the Middle East is one of breathtaking incompetence. The empty rhetoric of a “Global War on Terror” cannot disguise a policy that has led to chaos and carnage.
The ISG’s recommendations are not enough. Their reported intent to call for a “pullback” of 15 combat brigades still leaves open the door for a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq far greater than needed. Its apparent failure to call for a specific timetable, though politically expedient—reportedly, a compromise among its Republican and Democratic members—can allow for slippage or a stall. And there are legions of devils in the details. But in starting the process, the ISG has made George Bush an offer that he cannot refuse.
Meanwhile, the ISG—in fact, a thousand ISGs—can’t guarantee that the repercussions of the U.S. occupation of Iraq don’t spiral out of control. The civil war in Iraq could wind down, with the help of massive outside diplomatic help and the constructive involvement of Iraq’s six neighbors—or it could escalate, leaving another million or more Iraqis dead. And in so doing, it could pull in Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others, sparking a bloody regional conflagration. No one knows. The ISG doesn’t know. There are measures that can be taken to lessen the chances of the worst-case scenario unfolding. Such measures cannot be left to the United States. Like it or not, Iraq is now a basket case, and the world community—the United Nations, the Arab League, Iraq’s neighbors, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and powers like China and Japan—will need to step in. Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, has already offered to host a national reconciliation conference for Iraq’s warring sects and ethnic groups. A hundred other initiatives such as that will be needed. Pray it isn’t too late.