Tinsel Wing

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Baker-Hamilton report: the dead-enders speak

Being on the road during the week of the Unveiling of the long awaited report, I must confess that even now I have not sat down and read the thing. I've had to piece my impressions together from newspapers, and bloggers left and right.

Nevertheless, I feel confident in submitting this Tomgram by Michael Schwartz as recommended reading on the topic. It places the BH report in the context of the real reasons for invading Iraq - a program and a set of goals (namely, a perpetual military presence in the heart of the world's Oil Alley, together with the privatization of Iraq's oil fields) which Baker-Hamilton continues to line up squarely behind.

Schwartz is particularly good at homing in on the qualifications and weasel words missed by the press. Attentively read, they imply that the commission has not in fact recommended anything like a substantial drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq in the near term. Nor has it suggested that the threat of withdrawal be used to light a fire under the feet of the Maliki government. The actual threat, no doubt read clearly by Maliki and friends, has been obscured by press coverage here.
Most striking is the report's twenty-first (of seventy-nine) recommendations, aimed at describing what the United States should do if the Iraqis fail to satisfactorily fulfill the many tasks that the ISG has set for them.

"If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government."

This could be interpreted as a threat that the United States will withdraw -- and the mainstream media has chosen to interpret it just that way. But why then did Baker and his colleagues not word this statement differently? ("… the United States should reduce, and ultimately withdraw, its forces from Iraq.") The phrase "reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government" is probably better interpreted literally: that if that government fails to satisfy ISG demands, the U.S. should transfer its "political, military, or economic support" to a new leadership within Iraq that it feels would be more capable of making "substantial progress toward" the milestones it has set. In other words, this passage is more likely a threat of a coup d'état than a withdrawal strategy -- a threat that the façade of democracy would be stripped away and a "strong man" (or a government of "national salvation") installed, one that the Bush administration or the ISG believes could bring the Sunni rebellion to heel.

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