Little Giants

Listening to Liberal Public Radio (NPR) yesterday, I heard congressman Chris Schays refer to the members of the Iraq Study Group as “giants.” When he went out of his way to declare Vernon Jordan as particularly colossal, I almost drove off the road.

Vernon Jordan? Bill Clinton’s golfing buddy who arranged a job for Monica Lewinsky at Ron Perelman’s Revlon in exchange for her cooperation in the matter of Clinton’s attempt to obstruct justice? That Vernon Jordan? Schays flushed that little incident down the memory hole and the pristine “civil rights leader” re-emerged.

The members of the Iraq Study Group are in fact the opposite of “giants.” Churchill and Lincoln were giants: men of courage and principle. The Iraq Study Group members are noteworthy for their lack of principle, which some call “realism.” Baker, Hamilton and company might be useful as folks to go to if you’re in trouble and you need someone to make a deal that provides some short term relief (aka a lawyer), but their “fix” is guaranteed to produce an even larger, more intractable problem down the road.

Fixers like Baker are famous for innovations like pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Arabs in return for…terrorist and rocket attacks on Israelis. Baker is largely responsible for the so-called peace process which ensconced Arafat as the new Grand Vizier of Palestine and who Bill Clinton wined and dined more than any other foreigner.

And how did that all turn out? Israel made concessions which Yitzhak Rabin’s widow said would cause her late husband to spin in his grave and to which Arafat responded with suicide bombers. Baker is the last person to be lecturing Bush for stubbornly “staying the course.” He still thinks delivering the Israelis to their enemies will do the trick despite all that has happened since “Oslo.”

Mark Steyn adds:

Of course, Syria “should” do this and Iran “should” do that and, if they were Sandra Day O’Connor, I’m sure they would. But they’re not. And the only specific strategic proposal is a linkage between Iraq and a “renewed and sustained commitment” to a “comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace” – which concedes the same ludicrous rationale that the Saudi King Abdullah and all the rest of them make: that one tiny ten-mile sliver of Jews is the reason why millions of Muslims from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Emirates are mired in dictatorships, failed economies and jihadist fever. For the Baker group to endorse this clapped out pan-Arabism is disgusting. An “Arab-Israeli peace”? What does that mean? What exactly is Israel doing to Iraq, or Tunisia, or Qatar, or any other Arabs except those in the “Palestinian territories”? To frame it in those terms is to adopt the pathologies of the enemy. Shame on Baker, Hamilton and all the rest.

And Ralph Peters:

Former Secretary of State James Baker and his panelists are trying to shore up the failing regional system that their generation designed. Released yesterday, their report doesn’t offer “a new way forward.” Its recommendations echo past failures. And it shows no sense of how gravely the world has changed.

The report doesn’t offer a plan, but a muddle of truisms and truly bad ideas.

… Of all the many retro proposals scattered throughout the report, the notion that the road to peace in Baghdad runs through the West Bank just may be the worst.

Certainly, the most perverse: By tying Iraq to Palestine, Baker makes the problem immeasurably tougher, not easier. The Palestinian problem isn’t the cause of all that’s gone wrong, just another symptom. If Iraq can’t be fixed without resolving the Palestinian issue, then the answer is that Iraq can’t be fixed.

Really, what Baker – and this is Baker’s issue – argues for is the traditional Saudi and Arabist view that the Middle East’s problems are Israel’s fault. The fact that Baker would have made the same argument 15 years ago confirms that you really can’t teach some old dogs new tricks.

Baker believes in strong central governments. Just as he once insisted that the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia should stay together, he now demands (without asking the Iraqis) that Iraq remain rigidly unified.

And he believes in negotiations. Yet his belief in the cult of diplomacy is as blind as al Qaeda’s belief in its ultimate triumph.

After 60 years of failure, we should have figured out that the Middle East’s problems can’t be solved through another round of negotiations. But diplomacy is the opium of our governing elite. They’d file a “nonpaper” with Satan over the temperature in hell.

The report’s second-worst recommendation is to open discussions with Iran and Syria on Iraq, to try to make them part of the solution, rather than letting them continue to worsen the problem. The fatal difficulty is that only the desperate and the foolish negotiate from a position of weakness – you don’t parley with the schoolyard bully while he’s smacking you around and emptying your pockets.

Asking for help from Iran and Syria would only embolden them. And the last thing we need to do is to further encourage Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his belief that Iran and the Shia faith are predestined to dominate the region. As for Syria, Bashar Assad needs a whipping, not a reward.

Want to encourage Hezbollah, Hamas and all of Iraq’s thugs? Send Jim Baker to Tehran and Damascus. You bet that Iran would like stability in Baghdad – on its terms.

Yet another example of the “realists” going AWOL from reality is their plan to reduce the presence of U.S. combat forces in Iraq while leaving trainers and support troops behind. That means pulling out the battle-hardened infantrymen and leaving behind the Jessica Lynches. Think that’s going to discourage our enemies?

The most sensible recommendation from the Baker team is the now-routine demand that Iraqis fight for their own country. Their government has to show the will and ability to defeat and disarm all of its enemies. Without imposing an artificial timetable, the report stresses that we have to penalize the Baghdad government if it fails to perform: Iraq’s leaders can’t just keep lining their pockets while bodies line the country’s roads.

But perhaps the most striking aspect of the report is its underlying nostalgia. Baker longs for the “orderly” world of Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, the elder Assad and, above all, unchallenged Saudi influence in Washington.

The report cries out for an appendix listing Baker’s many contacts with Saudis over the decades and all the Saudi-related financial pies in which he had a finger. After all of the blame-it-on-Israel criticism of the neoconservatives, the media have been strangely quiet about Baker’s extensive ties to Riyadh.

Those who were looking for a strategic messiah to redeem our geopolitical sins this holiday season are getting heresy instead – a stealth betrayal of our country’s fundamental values in favor of the Middle East’s Herods, the strongmen Baker’s generation loved. Those authoritarian regimes and dictatorships gave us the problems we face today.

Today’s instability was inevitable. We can no more return to the phony stability of 20 years ago than we can go back 2,000 years. Nor should we want to.

In the end, the biblical figure who best reflects Jim Baker doesn’t come from the Nativity sequence, but from the end of the Gospels: Baker resembles Pontius Pilate in wanting those bedeviling local problems to go away and in imagining that, by caving in to unjust local powerbrokers, he can safeguard the empire’s interests.

The difference is that Pilate just wanted to wash his hands of an annoyance, while Baker would wash his hands in the blood of our troops.

Politicians looking for a new guiding star this holiday season will have to look elsewhere.

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