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AT BEST USELESS AND AT DANGEROUS
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
December 13, 2006

Illustration by Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News

By the time this column appears, the Iraqi Study Group's report, also known as the Baker-Hamilton report after its two authors, may well have been forgotten. At least, this is what one hopes. As a panacea for the ills of which Iraq suffers today, the report is worse than useless.

All it has done is to confirm the hopes of the enemies of new Iraq, and all anti-Americans in the region and beyond, that the US is seeking a smokescreen behind which it can whistle and walk away from the principal battlefield between democracy and terrorism.

It has also angered America's friends, including many in Iraq, who resent the report's suggestion that the fate of the newly liberated country be determined not by its peoples and their allies but by outsiders, including some of the ugliest regimes in the Middle East.

More seasoned observers of the American scene may regard the creation of the ISG as a political manoeuvre by the Bush administration to defuse the Iraq issue on the eve of the last mid-term elections in the US.

The ISG would enable the anti-war Democrats to claim that they had been right all along in opposing President George W. Bush's strategy of "staying the course" in Iraq.

At the same time, it would enable the administration to win implicit bipartisan support for key aspects of its policy. In other words, the Baker-Hamilton duo would produce a win-win result that plays well on television and newspaper editorials in a divided nation.

The philosophy behind the ISG has a long history in American politics that, despite its fundamentally democratic structures, has always included some byzantine aspects. What better way of kicking the can than having elder statesmen, from both parties, come together to conjure a consensus where none appears feasible?

To come back to the ISG, while its creation and its report may have been useful in terms of calming partisan ardours on Iraq, it would be foolish to see its confused and often contradictory analyses and recommendations as a blueprint for a strategy on Iraq.

To begin with, the report does not define the problem it presumes to address. Instead, it offers a series of assertions, often weakened by the use of the passive voice and an endless number of "ifs" and "buts".

Further confusion is fomented by an avalanche of adjectives and adverbs. We are told that the "situation" is "grave" or "deteriorating" and that the US should prepare to withdraw its troops "responsibly" while working "closely" with the Iraqi government.

The report never mentions the fact that what is happening in Iraq is a war. That enables its authors also to avoid the key questions that must be posed: What is this war about? Is it worth fighting from the point of view of American national interests? Who is the enemy? What is needed to secure an American victory?

Dreaded word

Instead of the dreaded word "war", the report uses the word "situation", as if it were dealing with some marital dispute or lovers' tiff in a sitcom. This is why it puts the emphasis on what it calls a "New Diplomatic Offensive" in the same way as one would call a marriage counsellor or a mother-in-law for help in a sitcom.

The proposed "New Diplomatic Offensive" or NDO consists of a litany of woes about the "situation" and a long wish list for the way more than 100 nations should act on Iraq.

The report presumes to dictate the script for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the European Union, Iraq's neighbours and the Security Council not to mention the entire United Nations.

In other words, it bases its hopes for "improving the situation" on what scores of other nations, including the strategic enemies of the US, and of new Iraq, might or might not do.

The authors seek a Middle East in which the lion lies with the lamb, both listening to an American lullaby long after the US has betrayed its friends and allies by cutting and running.

Even then, the proposed NDO is drowned in a sea of illusions from the start. To pre-empt charges of appeasement from the "neocons", the authors attach so many preconditions to talks between the US and its two regional enemies, Iran and Syria, that no one in Tehran or Damascus would be able to accept such an invitation.

The report fixes seven preconditions for talks with Syria and four for Iran. The authors do not say why Syrian and Iranian rulers should risk political suicide by helping the US consolidate a pro-American regime in Baghdad.

Having presented Iran as the key interlocutor in the context of the NDO, the authors casually note that their contacts "with Iran's government leads us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq." What a surprise!

The report makes more than five dozen recommendations, some of which contain further "mini-recommendations".

The problem is that implementing most of them depends on actors not controlled by, or hostile to, the US.

The fact that recommendations of widely different importance are banded together is a sign of either intellectual laziness or political posturing.

The wish list includes inter alia : peace between Israel and Arabs, a solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, an end to Syrian meddling in Lebanon, the uprooting of the drug trade in Afghanistan, an end to 13 centuries of feuds between Shiites and Sunnis, and the endorsement by the whole world of America's ambitions in the Middle East.

The ISG's report, useful though it may be in reducing tensions in US domestic politics, is at best useless and at worst dangerous as far as the war in Iraq is concerned. The US must decide whether it has the will to fight and win or, of it does not, how best to disengage itself from the Middle East.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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