October 22, 2006

Rubin's Distortions of the Baker-Hamilton Commission

I’ve been noticing Michael Rubin more and more these days, increasingly taking pen to paper to issue pitiable little epingles in the direction of those horrible realists, in neo-con cadre party outlets like the WSJ editorial page and the Weekly Standard. His latest is a preemptive attack on the Baker-Hamilton commission. It’s a classic Rubin type piece, full of wooly-headed intimations that we must expand the war theater to new Middle Eastern fronts, that the realists are but Neville-like appeasers tiresomely recycling old ideas, stabbing us in the back really, so as to preclude the glorious, total victory that would be ours but for a lack of resolve crippling the cocktail-swilling Foggy Bottom set, or those horrid leakers at Langley, or whatever other bogeyman du jour. Basically the usual fare that his ilk of weenie clowns (still, for reasons I cannot quite fathom, feted amidst the provincial echo chambers of varied Washington “think-tanks”) feed the remaining gaggles of true believers who still get all excited amidst the navel-gazing (is there still hope we might persuade Bush to summon the courage to go on to Teheran!?!). But this piece stood out, in its cheapness and shamelessness and solipsism, so I’ve decided to address his “arguments” in these cyber-pages.

First, however, allow me a confession. What really got my goat was Rubin’s suggestion that the Baker-Hamilton Commission’s recent trip to Baghdad (it was four days, not three, Michael) suffered egregiously because only Chuck Robb ventured into the Red Zone (Ramadi, specifically), while the other members of the working group remained safely ensconced sunning themselves amidst the pool cabanas of the Green Zone. We are told by Michael that the U.S. Embassy would have been happy to facilitate any further travels (doubtless soldier grunts would have been particularly eager to escort a bunch of VIPs through the alley-ways of Fallujah and Ramadi too, yes?). And despite the fact that the ISG members met with actors across the Iraqi political spectrum while in Baghdad, reportedly including a Sadr representative, secular leaders like the head of the Iraqi Communist Party, President Talabani, Prime Minister Maliki, Abdul-Aziz Hakim and so on and on—Michael informs us from his Washington cubicle that they would have gained better access to “unvarnished opinion” if they had “embedded with U.S. servicemen on patrol.” But these aren’t journalists out for a scoop or story in Ramadi. They’re former high ranking government officials gathering information directly from the key players—all of whom were more than happy to meet with them in Baghdad.

Now, it’s painfully clear, Michael desperately wants someone to take his bait, and query how many times he ventured into the Red Zone during his service with the CPA. Doubtless a few, one suspects, because otherwise even he would not have the gall to lob this kind of lame attack at people with decades more government experience than he. But here’s the rub. Sources tell me that for most of the time Rubin was in Iraq, it was still quite safe to venture out of the Green Zone (it started getting more dangerous around November/December of 2003). And while it is true that Rubin’s AEI bio states he was in Iraq until March of ’04—forgive me if I hazard a guess that his time spent in the Sunni Triangle (rather than Kurdistan, say) for those few months after the Fall of ’03 was, shall we say, rather on the de minimis side.

But let’s leave such pissing matches about Green Zone/Red Zone travel-time logged aside, shall we (before I bore you with tales of my time spent in war-torn Bosnia!). Here’s what we should really keep in mind for purposes of this discussion. Rubin was part of a group associated with Doug Feith at the Pentagon that were, in the main, Chalabi-cheerleaders, and swallowed with alacrity the kool-aid that the "liberation" would be swift and welcomed by the Iraqis and that the U.S. government would be able to hand off the governance quickly and without much pain to Chalabi and Co. Putting it plainly then, and I hope I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings here, Rubin had a significant responsibility for the strategic and operational decisions made after the invasion. In effect he could well be called to task for this major U.S. policy failure and all the tragic mess our government and nation is now facing with so much blood and treasure spilled. And now, to add insult to injury, all he can do is snipe and provide no viable solutions in the pages of the Standard. Indeed friends, one is compelled to ask how guys like him responsible for the decision-making on Iraq can so cavalierly dispense advice given the over 2,700 US soldiers killed, thousands more maimed and wounded and tens of thousands (if not hundreds) of Iraqis dead. They should be very wary indeed of criticizing those Americans who have been tasked by Congress with finding a way out between staying the course and cutting and running, especially when all they can apparently muster up instead is wailing from the sidelines cheerleading new adventures like reckless blowhards.

But I digress. Shall we turn to Rubin’s piece in the Standard, and take a look at it in more detail?


POLICYMAKERS ARE ABUZZ with the explosive recommendations for U.S. policy toward Iraq soon to be released by the Baker-Hamilton Commission: Abandon democracy, seek political compromise with the Sunni insurgents, and engage Tehran and Damascus as partners to secure stability in their neighbor. While former secretary of state James Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton said they would withhold their report until after the elections on November 7 to avoid its politicization, they have discussed their findings with the press. On October 8, for example, Baker appeared on ABC's This Week, and the next day he discussed the group's findings with Charlie Rose. On October 12, both Baker and Hamilton appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Both men are master inside-the-Beltway operators. Rather than prime the debate, they sought to stifle it. While on March 15, 2006, Baker said, "Chairman Hamilton and I have the same objective . . . to make an honest assessment of where we are and how we go forward and take this issue to the extent that we can out of politics," both chairmen designed the commission to affirm preordained conclusions that are neither new nor wise.

Clever verbiage, Michael, that Baker and Hamilton “discussed their findings with the press”. Sure, they’ve made the television rounds some, and hinted at directions here or there, but the reality is no one knows what their recommendations are going to be exactly, as they haven’t even been written yet as far as anyone knows. I challenge Michael to comb through the Lehrer transcript, or Baker’s appearance on This Week, or on Charlie Rose—and share with us how, in anything approaching a comprehensive fashion, they’ve shared their findings with the public. They haven’t, of course. If anyone is trying to “stifle” the debate—it’s disingenuous commentators like Rubin who are emitting these preemptive shots across the bow. But with their credibility in tatters, it won’t matter. People want to see what Baker and Hamilton are going to recommend, because the direction the Michael Rubin’s have pointed us towards have us knee-deep in a cluster-fuck of rather significant proportions, in case I need to remind anyone, which apparently I do.


Take the four subordinate expert working groups: Baker and Hamilton gerrymandered these advisory panels to ratify predetermined recommendations. While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.

Many appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for their hostility to President Bush's war on terrorism and emphasis on democracy. Raad Alkadiri, for example, has repeatedly defined U.S. motivation for Iraq's liberation as a grab for oil. Raymond Close, listed on the Iraq Study Group's website as a "freelance analyst," is actually a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which, in July 2003, called for Vice President Dick Cheney's resignation for an alleged conspiracy to distort intelligence, which they said had been uncovered by none other than Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The following summer, Close posited that "Bush and the neocons" had fabricated the charge "that the evil Iranian mullahs inspired and instigated the radical Shia Islamist insurgency." To Close, the problem was not Iranian training and supply of money and sophisticated explosives to terrorists, but rather neo-conservatism.

Other experts include a plaintiff in the January 17, 2006, lawsuit against the National Security Agency for its no-warrant wiretap program and a think-tank analyst who had not traveled beyond the Green Zone on her only trip to Iraq in September 2003, but nonetheless demonstrated her open mind by declaring the Iraq endeavor a failure in an interview with a German magazine just days before the commission's inauguration.
Baker placed Chas Freeman, his former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, on the panel, despite Freeman's assertion, in the antiwar documentary Uncovered: The War in Iraq, that the Bush administration had fabricated its justifications for war. Why seek advice from an area specialist who has clearly crossed the line from analysis to conspiracy?

Michael Rubin “personally withdrew from an expert working group”. Say it ain’t so! James Baker and Lee Hamilton, doubtless, must have been crushed--that the penetrating insights Rubin would have brought to bear are now lost forever, amidst his protest resignation (a resignation, one suspects, mostly borne of a dreary sense of self-importance rather than any legitimate grievance about “token diversity”). More seriously, note how Rubin has reached a conclusion about the judgment of the ISG Commissioners before even waiting for them to reach theirs! Rather unfair, wouldn’t you say? But no, as I said, dreary solipsism, rather than any serious attempt at analyzing the situation we find ourselves in and confronting reality. Instead, as is the wont with this crowd, he pisses on selected members of the ISG, trying to smear the group with some tar brush of being conspiracy theorists and other beyond the pale types. But I’m afraid that’s not going to work so easily dear Michael. You see, the members of the ISG include (apart from Baker and Hamilton) Bob Gates, Vernon Jordan, Ed Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon Panetta, Bill Perry, Chuck Robb, and Alan Simpson. Each of these persons (in equal number Democrats and Republicans) might view Michael as something akin to a little cherub in diapers, given how much more experience they each have individually than him, let alone as a group.

But, you protest, what of the working groups?!? Michael says they are infested by conspiracy-theorists and such rabble! Again kiddies, not so quick! Here is a link to members of each working group. These include people of strong reputation like James Dobbins (Rand), Geoffrey Kemp (Nixon Center), Mike Eisenstadt (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), Jon Alterman (CSIS), and Reuel Marc Gerecht (of, drum-roll please….AEI!). Now, putting aside Gerecht (whom I’m surprised hasn’t fled the ISG before he is tarred as a deviationist traitor in the hallways of AEI, but who knows, perhaps he has?), this is a serious bunch of individuals, as are people like Dan Kurtzer and Phebe Marr. Are they all chumps, and Michael Rubin the noble preserver of the Torch of Freedom? C’mon! As for his cheap attack on Chas Freeman, suffice it to say Freeman could run circles around Rubin in his sleep when it comes to knowledge of the region, at least of the non-Chalabi-spoon-fed variety, that is.

Rubin, again:

Even if the eight other commissioners--all distinguished retired government officials--approached their work with honesty, they had little opportunity to get an independent look at developments in Iraq. U.S. evaluations of Iraq have long suffered from an overemphasis on both PowerPoint presentations and conversations with a limited circle of Green Zone interlocutors. During the commission's three-day visit to Iraq, only former senator Charles Robb left the Green Zone, despite the embassy's willingness to facilitate excursions. Had commission members embedded with U.S. servicemen on patrol, each in a separate area of the country, they might have expanded their contacts, broadened their collective expertise, and gained access to unvarnished opinion.

Had they done so, they might not conclude that the solution in Iraq lies with further engagement of Iran and Syria. Rather than inject a "new approach" to U.S. strategy, the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendations resurrect the old. In May 2001, Hamilton co-chaired an Atlantic Council study group that called on Washington to adopt a "new approach" to Iran centered on engagement with Tehran. And, in 2004, Baker-Hamilton Commission member Robert M. Gates co-chaired another study group that called for a "new approach" toward Iran consisting of engagement.

I’ve already dealt with this business about travel outside the Green Zone above. But to suggest that the ISG’s conclusions would be different, so as to lead them away from potential calls for increased engagement with Iran and Syria—if only they had left the Green Zone—well, it’s just risible. Regardless, someone will doubtless have an opportunity to ask Chuck Robb if his trip to Ramadi has him eager to expand the war to Syria and Iran as Rubin would cheerlead like a dim, faith-based adventurer. As for Rubin’s so clever use of quotes around “new approach”, what could our devilishly clever little Beltway maven mean? Have we had direct, sustained high-level discussions on a wide stable of issues with the Islamic Republic since 1979? Nope, so it would seem to be a “new approach,” no? And if Rubin is so petrified Baker and Hamilton are going to recommend that, it sure sounds like a “new approach” to me. If anything, the “old approach” of supremely naïve democracy exportation exercises like that Rubin and his gaggles of fellow-believers still recommend like gross naifs has failed, dismally in fact, so that a “new approach” is desperately needed.


The problem is that this "new approach" hasn't been good for U.S. national security. After Secretary of State Madeleine Albright extended an olive branch to the Islamic Republic in March 2000, the Iranian leadership facilitated anti-U.S. terrorists. As the 9/11 Commission found, "There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers."

In the weeks prior to the Iraq war, Washington once again engaged Tehran. Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, who, at the time, was Bush's chief Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, solicited a noninterference pledge from Iran's U.N. ambassador in exchange for a U.S. pledge to bomb and blockade the Mujahedeen al-Khalq terrorist camp inside Iraq. Writing in Asharq Al-Awsat just after Saddam's fall, Ali Nourizadeh, known as the Bob Woodward of Iranian journalists for his connections to the ruling elite, described how, even as Washington kept its bargain, the Iranian leadership ordered its Qods Force, the Iranian equivalent of the Green Berets, to infiltrate Iraq with weapons, money, and other supplies. "According to a plan approved by the Revolutionary Guards command, the aim was to create a fait accompli," he wrote. Rather than send a diplomat to head its embassy in Baghdad, the Iranian government sent Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a Qods Force commander who was Tehran's former liaison to Hezbollah. Effective realism requires abandoning the utopian conviction that engagement always works and partners are always sincere.

Putting aside whether James Baker, say, needs lessons from Michael Rubin on what may or may not constitute “effective realism”, and putting aside further the rich irony of Michael spouting on about “utopian conviction”, what to say about a reference to the Bob Woodward of Iranian journalists?!? Well game over then, eh? Point proven! Michael has great sources, you see, or more precisely, he seems breathlessly eager to get played for a dumb sucker once again (le plus ca change…). Of course, it’s true, some al-Qaeda have transited and found relative safe harbor in Iran. And yes, it is true, the Iranians are trouble-making, and quite a bit, in Iraq. Does this mean then that we should march into said country post-haste too, so as to resuscitate the moribund Bush Doctrine? Does this mean that any dialogue with Iran on the Iraq issue is doomed to failure? Of course not.


While Baker and Hamilton themselves may be sincere in their convictions [ed. note: How generous of you Michael, this concession will doubtless mean a lot to them!], conclusions absent acknowledgment of historical context will backfire. In Iraq, perception trumps reality [ed. note: And in Washington too, dear Boy]. Sunni insurgents, former military officers, and Shiite tribal leaders each voiced one common complaint in a meeting last month: They believe Washington is ready to hand primacy in Iraq over to Iran. "You [Ed. Note: Does the “you” here include YOU, Michael?] have allowed the Iranians to rape us," a former general said. Just as Iraqis believe the coalition's failure to restore electricity to be deliberate--if NASA can land a man on the moon, who would believe that USAID cannot turn on the lights in Baghdad?--so Iraqis across the ethnic and sectarian divide are convinced the White House has blessed a paramount role for Iran. Why else would we allow Moktada al-Sadr and the Badr Corps to expand their influence unchecked? Such conspiracy theories may appear ridiculous to an American audience accustomed to government ineptitude, but in Iraq they have real consequences: If Washington has blessed Iranian ambitions in Iraq, then Washington is to blame for outrages perpetuated by Iranian militias.

Excuse me while I stifle a chuckle with regard to this straw man. Even if Baker and Hamilton call for dialogue with Iran on the Iraq issue (or on other issues besides, perhaps), how is this tantamount to having “blessed Iranian ambitions in Iraq”? Because we want to talk to our adversaries and persuade them to change tack and lessen support to problematic Iraqi factions (both Sunni and Shi'a ones, as the Iranians are allegedly hedging their bets and supporting, not only Shi’a militias, but Sunni insurgents too), we are blessing their lebensraum in Iraq? Poor Michael is petrified of diplomacy, as it might interfere in the next campaign his ilk is eager to gin up from points Washington. But Michael, people are on to your gig, and they’re very tired of it. They won’t be snookered again by the likes of you peddling around the usual snake-oil.


When Rep. Frank R. Wolf conceived of the Iraq Study Group, he chose Baker and Hamilton to lead it in recognition of their extensive diplomatic experience. But it is this experience that may not only condemn the commission's recommendations to failure, but also further inflame Iraq. In the Middle East, Baker's legacy is twofold. As secretary of state, he presided over the 1989 Taif Accords, which ended Lebanon's civil war. By blessing Syrian military occupation, he sacrificed Lebanese independence on the altar of short-term pragmatism. Many Iraqis--Sunni elites and former officers especially--fear Washington may repeat the episode in their country. They fear Baker's cold realist calculations may surrender Iraq to Iranian suzerainty. While Americans may nonetheless welcome short-term calm, in terms of U.S. security, the Taif model failed: Damascus used its free hand to gut civil society and turn Lebanon into a safe haven for terror.

Oh my! Was it really only post-Taif that Lebanon became a "safe haven for terror", to employ Rubin's hyberbolic (and simultaneously banal) use of ye olde 'safe haven' verbiage? Michael, did the PLO exist in Lebanon pre-Taif? Did Hezbollah exist in Lebanon pre-Taif? In short, what the bloody hell are you talking about?


Baker's other legacy may be harder to shake: Iraqis remember him for his role in Operation Desert Storm. On February 15, 1991, President George H.W. Bush called upon Iraqis to "take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside." Iraqis did rise up, but Baker counseled U.S. forces to stand aside as Saddam turned his helicopter gunships on the rebellious Kurds and Shiites. Had more commission members exited the Green Zone, they might have found that among the greatest impediments U.S. forces and diplomats face in Iraq is the experience of betrayal that Baker imprinted on their country. Washington's adversaries have capitalized on this legacy. The foolishness of Iraqis' trusting Washington has been a constant theme in Iranian propaganda. Should the Baker-Hamilton Commission also recommend abandoning democracy--which the Shiites understand as their right to power--and urge a political accord with Sunni insurgents, they would push 16 million Iraqi Shiites beyond possibility of accord and into the waiting embrace of an Iranian regime that, paid militias aside, most Iraqis resent.

Er, memo to Michael: we’re already reportedly talking to Sunni insurgents, right now in fact, in precincts Amman—trying to reach the “political accord” that so disturbs you. If Michael is worried that complex power sharing arrangements with Sunnis will hold the crude majoritarianism of the Shi’a at bay (throwing them into the eager clutches of the dastardly Mullahs!), well, he might ring John Bolton or Elliot Abrams to ask what the hell is going on, rather than bitch about the Baker-Hamilton commission.

Rubin concludes:

Iraq is a bipartisan problem. Regardless of the outcome of the 2006, and even 2008, elections, the legacy of Iraq is going to impact U.S. policy and security for years to come. It is unfortunate, then, that the commission has bypassed its responsibility to seek a new approach and instead has embraced the old.

Perhaps, rather than revert to the pre-9/11 habits of short-term accommodation and a belief that two oceans insulate the United States from the world, the commission should expand its mandate. Iraqis fleeing Saddam for the West have embraced democracy wherever they have settled, an indication that their culture is not to blame. Rather than preempt debate, fresh eyes might consider whether the deterioration in Iraq signals the failure of democracy or an inability to ensure the rule of law.

Rather than pretend the Iraq problem can be contained, they might consider whether it has suffered from an unwillingness to address provocations from beyond Iraq's borders. National security depends on dealing with the world we have, rather than the world diplomats construct with smoke and mirrors. Exit strategies might seem easy, but--like the Taif Accords and the failure to topple Saddam in 1991--they are irresponsible and replete with long-term consequences. What is needed in Iraq is reconsideration of the resources and parameters conducive to long-term victory, not a repeat of short-term solutions that will almost certainly fail.

So many delicious passages here, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps Michael’s desperately lame spin that the fact that the tens of thousands of middle class Iraqis fleeing for their lives from Iraq showcases how, if only we had handed Chalabi the reins or some such, democracy would have sprouted up in Iraq? Or is it perhaps the arrogance to suggest that it is men like Baker who “construct…smoke and mirrors”, given the great damage people like Rubin have wrought by doing this very thing, big time, as they say. A friend, who knew I’d be blogging Rubin having finally been pushed to spend a couple hours writing about his disingenuous recent output, sends an E-mail:

Another aspect you might want to consider is that, as far as I can see, the narrative of people like Rubin is based almost entirely on conspiracies and counter-factuals. The conspiracy aspect is most visible in his Weekly Standard [piece], where Baker has brought in 'the left.' This is familiar. It was the common coin of people in which people like Feith, Wurmser, and Luti at the OSD and the Vice-President and those around him traded at their height (it was also echoed by people like Hitchens and Kristol from the outside). The basic view was that the State Department and the CIA were basically seditious centers of resistance to the GWOT, objectively (and how trippingly that Old Bolshevik phrase tripped from neo-conservative tongues) the allies of liberals if not, indeed, of our country's enemies. But alongside this has arisen the counterfactual---to whit that if the neo-cons had been allowed to install Chalabi as they had wanted to, all would have been well. Forget the facts on the ground in Iraq, which were that the Shi'a were determined to have their day whatever happened and that secularism had already become a dead letter in sanctions-era Iraq (though of course one of our signal accomplishments in Iraq has been to destroy forever Christianity there). For the neo-cons, the war can't have simply been a bad idea. No, the good idea was somehow screwed up, whether by Powell, Rumsfeld, CIA, or the liberal media. You will never hear a David Frum say the book he wrote with Perle has simply turned out to be flat wrong in its essence or a Michael Rubin to admit that the invasion he championed was a mistake. Like the Trotskyists of yore, these people are never wrong IF ONLY they had been listened to and allowed to follow their mad utopian schemes to their limit.

Indeed. Another way to put it, perhaps, is that the Republic would likely have been better served, putting Cheney and Rummy and Bush’s role aside, for the moment at least, if intellectual enablers had pursued different avenues in life. Say, perhaps, Wolfowitz had stuck to mathematics (his undergrad major), Feith to lawyering, and Rubin to biology (his undergrad major). But at least Wolfowitz is trying to make amends at the World Bank, and Feith is keeping a relatively low profile. Where does Rubin get off spouting off like this? Perhaps it’s his youth. But let’s clue him in, shall we—that we view his foreign policy prescriptions with little more than scorn and contempt. Maybe he’ll pipe down some if he hears the message loud and clear, from enough of us.

UPDATE: Thanks to all the readers who sent in this hilarious byline via E-mail: "Michael Rubin, a former CPA political officer — the only one who lived outside the American security bubble —is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute."

Posted by Gregory at October 22, 2006 05:29 PM

"Perhaps, rather than revert to the pre-9/11 habits of short-term accommodation...."

It's always contempt for the short term. No, only grand plans to remake the entire world pass muster. As in 'conservative' politics where total final defeat if not elimination of liberals is the stated goal, remaking the world is the goal. Final solutions so to speak, and I use the term with knowlege aforethought.

There are no final solutions in matters human. Only ideologs believe in them and the world of the last century is littered with the bodies of the victims. As a matter of first principal ideology is unAmerican. The flaw of neocorvative ideology lies in the simple fact that it is ideology. No system of thought can contain solutions to practical problems. Short term solutions and compromise are the only way, as untidy as they may be.

Those deterimined to run the world are doomed to ruin it. Nothing is more certain.

Posted by: rapier at October 22, 2006 06:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good point, Rapier.

This American election on 7 November is a tripartite referendum on Bush's un-provoked, unnecessary, largely unilateral invasion and unplanned occupation of Iraq (UULUIUOI).

Candidates can't be equally as candid as I can when I say if Iraqis want to have their uncivil free-for-all, let's freaking get out of their frigging way!

Posted by: Vigilante at October 22, 2006 07:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I admire the effort that went into your post, but I gotta wonder -- why waste a millisecond of one's time trawling the phantasmagorical parallel reality that Billy Kristol's rag inhabits? You could have summarized your essay with a simple, "Yet another professional liar finds a comfortable home in The Weekly Standard."

Posted by: sglover at October 22, 2006 07:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The really wonderful thing about Rubin's piece is his apparent belief -- which, however, he can't quite bring himself to state openly at this point -- that regime change in Iran (to an enthusiastically pro-American regime, after we had bombed the shit out of them and invaded them with an army of non-Moslems) really WOULD be that cakewalk of which we were deprived in Iraq. Either that, or he's proposing a mass draft, WW-II size -- and, quite apart from the fact that no American with two working neurons to bump together would trust these destructive clowns with a draft at this point, it is extremely doubtful that even a gargantuan invasion of Iran would do any more than make still more trouble in the REST of the Moslem world, despite the Sunni/Shiite division. In particular, What Would Pakistan Do?

And on that last point: I still think we may ultimately have to resort to military force against Iran for the specific purpose of trying to keep them from getting their hands on the Bomb, since nuclear terrorism is -- by an overwhelming margin -- the deadliest threat civilization now faces (and was so long before 9-11, which could have been regarded as an ironically fortunate wakeup call by historians if the people responding to the alarm clock hadn't been morons). But using force against Iran even for that far more limited purpose will be tremendously difficult and risky itself -- the only reason I favor it is that I think that adding Iran to the list of tyrannies with the Bomb, particularly with its government's element of religious nuttiness, is even riskier -- and if I had to name a crew capable of screwing it up disastrously, it's this one. If Sy Hersh is correct, they're already cranking up to do just that by devoting most of their planned bombing runs not to destroying Iran's nuclear facilities, but to provoking its people into Rising Up Against Their Tyrants -- that is, bombing Iran's people into setting up an enthusiastically pro-American government on their own, as I said. They're quit capable of it --just as they're fully capable of trying to force North Korea into "regime change" by economically squeezing it, despite the fact that the evidence is extremely strong that NK acquired the Bomb precisely as a desperation move to try and extort enough economic aid from other nations to keep their regime in power lest they be massacred by their own citizens a la Romania, and so squeezing it economically without making arrangements to save the regime's officials from slaughter if they DO give up power peacefully is a sure and certain recipe for just bringing the crisis on faster.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at October 22, 2006 09:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with sglover. Why are you wasting your beautiful mind on this twit?

You have obviously devoted some time to thinking through possible solutions to the problem. The difficulty with your Dayton-style conference proposal is that it isn't terribly bold, yet is more than we can plausibly expect from present management. I wonder what you would think about the thought experiment of supposing that the administration were magically replaced by an ideal team -- perhaps a channeling or AI simulation of Kennon, Marshall, Acheson, and your choice of smartest President. How would they salvage the situation and what is the best we could hope for?

Posted by: Roger Bigod at October 22, 2006 10:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg Djerejian, enhance your calm.

I don't really agree with posters upthread who argue that articles appearing in The Weekly Standard are unworthy of response. TWS is a significant publication, in that its head and some of its contributors have either been influential in Washington or, like Michael Rubin, actually part of the Bush administration. Policy recommendations by people whose work contributed to the current ill state of America's position in the Middle East now must be taken seriously, if for no other reason because they may represent the thinking of current administration officials.

With that said, this post reflects Greg's own youth rather more than he himself might wish, upon reflection. "Ilk of weenie clowns?" "Michael, people are on to your gig?" "Where does Rubin get off spouting off?" I could practically hear fists and heels drumming on the floor as I read this, and I doubt I was the only one. Greg's correspondent, quoted in the post, makes a point about Rubin more essential than anything Greg himself says, and does it inside of a paragraph -- though his reference to people refusing to see the Iraq war as a mistake and blaming its failure on various parties screwing up could very easily be taken to mean more people than just neoconservatives.

Incidentally, one observation of Rubin's, about some Iraqis assuming that the United States must have blessed the ambitions of Iran and the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, does not strike me as implausible at all given what we've seen in Iraq over the last three years. The observation is made, I think, in an incomplete context and is used to support policy recommendations that are not only wrong but wholly impractical. But American policy has been interpreted in....creative ways by people across Iraq for quite a while now, partly because Iraqis have assumed that we could deliver more than we've been able to and partly because American public statements have been so obsessively tailored to the American audience that the Iraqi audience has effectively been left in the dark about what our objectives are. We should not be surprised that the vacuum thus created has been filled by some pretty wild theories. The same kind of thing has reportedly happened in Afghanistan, where many Afghans assume that the United States, on good terms with the Taliban's Pakistani sponsors, must therefore in some way be supporting the Taliban.

Posted by: Zathras at October 22, 2006 11:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

really WOULD be that cakewalk of which we were deprived in Iraq

"Damn, we just picked the *wrong cake* last time!"

Actually, I think more of Daffy Duck in his turn as Robin Hood: "first the powder, then the shot ..."

Posted by: Anderson at October 23, 2006 02:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I like the suggestion that US visitors would learn more about the local populace's outlook by embedding with US military patrols -- that is pretty farcical. I imagine them with a patrol in Fallujah at the height, learning how local populace bodies bounce when they hit the ground after being shot, or explode when hit with artillery or air support. Educational stuff, to be sure, but not really germaine to strategic or even tactical planning.

Posted by: hank williams at October 23, 2006 03:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why not just ask the people of Iraq via a national referendum whether our troops should stay in their country or not?

If they say no...problem solved (honorably), we just leave.

If they say yes, the vote will give us supoort to do whatever we come up with next.

Posted by: monkyboy at October 23, 2006 10:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I too actually like the notion of having these 'cakewakers' embedded with the patrols - and I too agree that it wouldn't make much of an impress on their strategic or tactical thinking, even if there was the prospect of getting their own guts splattered. Yet I seriously doubt for one minute that Rubin would ever have offered himself as an 'embed' in a dammit-all-I'll-lead-by-example moment of pique and get his own arse over there to get to the bottom of what those blasted subversives in Langley or Foggy Bottom were party-pooping over...mainly because what is apparent in his jeremiad is the fact that he himself wouldn't have stepped outside the Green Zone for two minutes lest he stopped valuing his own guts and what passes for gristle.

These emissaries of 'diplomacy' and theorizers of clean, surgical wars weren't stupid. They knew good and well what was going on, that it was nothing but guts, gristle, nuts, bolts, a lot of blood, and everything else except brains, heart, and decency. Common sense too...oh well, let's NOT go there...

Zathra says, "(b)ut American policy has been interpreted in....creative ways by people across Iraq for quite a while now, partly because Iraqis have assumed that we could deliver more than we've been able to and partly because American public statements have been so obsessively tailored to the American audience that the Iraqi audience has effectively been left in the dark about what our objectives are. " As I've posted previously, there is no democracy at the barrel of a gun; I should add as well that there is no nuance in splattered guts, and the PCs for the Power Point presentations don't cut it as body armor.

For as long as this war was sold as a democracy-building show for American consumption, where someone else did the heavy lifting and dying, and for as long as the writers and directors of this show thought they'd staged it so well that they didn't actually have to see any of the actors (the troops), extras (Iraqis), sets, or special effects up close, I think any special pleading to the Iraqi people about what our 'real' objectives were would have been terribly unconvincing, and now...? Rubin's outrage is positively hideous when it isn't utterly idiotic.

Posted by: sekaijin at October 23, 2006 01:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't understand why so many people like Rubin feel that speaking with our enemies is somehow exclusive of fighting them.

This seems of a piece with the notion that speaking with our enemies "rewards" them.

When one studies negotiation, one learns that you enter a negotiation with a "BATNA"--the "best alternative to a negotiated agreement"--in your back pocket. One possible tactic any negotiator has is to walk away from the negotiations.

But people like Rubin don't want us to have these options. I think the desire to not talk with our enemies or rivals is born out of a desire to limit possible U.S. actions. He would like to collapse all our options down to one--war.

Posted by: RWB at October 23, 2006 01:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


this was great --- you should be writing for publication, though. You're writing style is crisp (although you tend to write too much, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph, there is little to criticize, and much that is praiseworthy), your reasoning well thought out, and your knowledge base is impressive.

Indeed, I hope you send a highly condensed version of this to the Standard as a rebuttal --- but make sure to include the smackdown of Rubin's accusation that the ISG personnel were selected to affirm a pre-determined conclusion.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 23, 2006 03:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
"taking pen to paper"

The halfway point between "putting pen to papaer" and "taking pen and paper".

It doesn't really work for me. YMMV.

Posted by: Aaron Adams at October 23, 2006 04:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


An observaton:

Rubin does have a right to his opinion. What he probably does not have is the right to take up your time. (I truly regret he took up some of mine.)

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at October 23, 2006 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I second the notion that Mr. Djerjian should be writing for publication. First, he is a cogent analyst of foreign affairs and his opinions make for valuable contributions to the understanding of international relations. Second, he would greatly benefit from an editor, toning down the verbosity and helping him to cut to the heart of the matter.

The one damage the blog-form does to good writers is that it's "unlimited" word space allows us -- "us," how arrogant of me; "them" -- to indulge a propensity to ramble on, as Led Zeppelin might say.


Posted by: James F. Elliott at October 23, 2006 08:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It's" should be "its!" "Good writer" indeed...

Posted by: James F. Elliott at October 23, 2006 08:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Foreign Policy Establishment Strikes Back!
It is the return of the revered (at least in Georgetown Social Circles) Foreign Policy Realists to regain control from the crazyed neo-Cons and lead us back to Sanity!
Great to see that the veteran Bush Family Consignore* Big Jimmy Baker was able to take time off from defending Our Friends, the Saudis from Civil Suits filed by families of 9/11 victims to lead this panel and guide it to the proper Establishment conclusion to find a face saving way out of the Iraq Debacle. Let us remember Big Jim's realpolitik statement in 1992 that the US was backing no one in the Bosnia War, thus giving the go ahead signal for the Serbian Massacres, Rapes & Ethnic Cleansing! Who knows what similar RealPolitik wisdom he will have concerning Iraq, Iran & Syria Certainly will not have to worry about any idealistic nonsense about democracy for the Natives, right Old Boy!

*Wonder if Big Jim regrets his sucess in making the Gore votes in Florida be sent to sleep with the Fishes, thereby putting Boy George & his Puppet Master, Cheney in power?

Posted by: David All at October 23, 2006 10:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey David All:

James Baker isn't my favorite guy by a long shot, but my understanding of the break-up of Yugoslavia was that Baker and the "foreign policy establishment" were opposed to the independence of Slovenia and Croatia because they were opposed to civil war (which happened as a result of Slovenia and Croatia seceding) and the division of the country along ethnic lines. In hindsight, we can see that the ethnic grievances in Yugoslavia and been stoked by Milosevic for a long time, more or less in secret, before Slovenia and Croatia split. So war was kind of inevitable. But at the same time, it is easy to see from the point of view of the USA then why they wouldn't want to back any particular party, and indeed would have a hard time deciding who to back even if they had wanted to. It wasn't like Croatia had clean hands, either, and Slovenia's "You guys go and fight attitude" was considered to be a cold, self-interested calculation (which worked brilliantly for them, one must admit).

But after the Sarajevo "bread line" massacre in May 1992, Baker became hawkish about protecting Bosnia and even advocated sending U.S. troops in. This was nixed by the Pentagon, and the U.S. basically dithered for several years as the situation deteriorated.

But before May 1992, I think it would have been hard for the U.S. to support a particular side in this conflict and very hard indeed to take any meaningful action--regardless of who the Secretary of State had been. Milosevic may have used this as license to commit ethnic cleansing and atrocities, but I find it hard to blame Baker for that.

(I may be remembering things wrong here; if so, I'll happily swallow my words.)

Considering how badly our foreign policy has been run the past few years, Baker will likely be an improvement, in my view. (Assuming his commission's advice is listened to and followed.)

Posted by: RWB at October 24, 2006 12:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Considering how badly our foreign policy has been run the past few years, Baker will likely be an improvement, in my view. (Assuming his commission's advice is listened to and followed.)

Talk about damning with faint praise....

Posted by: J Thomas at October 24, 2006 01:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

RWB: Thanks for your comment. I do believe that you are correct about the order that events happened in the break up of Yugoslavia and Baker's comments about them. The horrors of Bosnia were such that I had forgotten about the Serb-Croatian War that proceeded the Bosnian War. You are right that concerning Serbia & Croatia that a policy of neutrality & "a plague on both your houses" was probably the right one or certainly Seemed to be the right one at the time. Thank you for setting the circumstances of Baker's remark and our "hands off" policy of that time in its proper perspective. And you are right that whatever Baker-Hamilton recomend is likely to be better then what we have been doing since the Invasion of Iraq in March 2003. And yes, that is "faint praise" indeed, J. Thomas.

Posted by: David All at October 24, 2006 05:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have to say, Greg, that your first paragraph was one of the more delightfully eloquent and amusing insults aimed at neocon bluster I have read in a while.

Posted by: Mitsu at October 24, 2006 05:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> It wasn't like Croatia had clean hands

Most readers will probably follow his comment, but lest anyone miss it, this is (probably) an understated reference to the horrors of the Ustaše.

Posted by: hank williams at October 25, 2006 12:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I appreciate Greg wading through the neocon crap, so I don't have to. If nothing else, it provides a chuckle.

Nonetheless, I agree with the neocons - what we really need is a cracking multi-country clash of civilizations. I for one was getting bored with all this peace and (relative) affluence and there's nothing I'd like more than even more tax dollars going to remake the Iranians and the Syrians and hell, why not the Libyans too, in our glorious image. Cry havoc and all that, you know. It'll provide lots of Pultizer Prize-winning journalism and 20 years from now, all sorts of awesome movies about how we really won, regardless of the actual result. Maybe we can use some of our nukes, those things are just sitting around collecting dust.

And while we're at it, I think the govt should start using its groovy new power to detain anyone it wants for any amount of time for reasons we'd better not ask about if we know what's good for us. I suggest they start with well-known America haters/terrorist appeasers Barbra Streisand and Rosie O'Donnell. Cause it's clear that the only thing standing between us and our destiny is a 60-year-old singer and a chubby lesbian talk show host. Oh, and those traitors in the CIA, telling us stuff can't be done. We're AMERICA, damn it! There's nothing we can't do. Just ask us.

Posted by: LL at October 26, 2006 05:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

More About the Author
Email the Author

Recent Entries

The News
The Blogs
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Law & Finance
Think Tanks
The City
Epicurean Corner
Syndicate this site:

Belgravia Dispatch Maintained by:

Powered by