For this we waited all these months?
The report of the Iraq Study Group is not exactly a strategy for unconditional surrender, but it’s what you get from an expensive corporation lawyer trained never to let conviction, purpose or principle get in the way of a settlement that will stay together at least until the lawyers cash their checks. It was all in a day’s work for Jim Baker.
Mr. Baker is a favorite target of the tabloids, inevitably portrayed as vain, pompous, arrogant and eager to settle scores. The New York Post couldn’t wait to have a little clean fun, transposing the heads of Mr. Baker and his fellow conspirator-in-mischief, Lee Hamilton, onto the heads of a couple of simians and headlining it: “Surrender Monkeys.”
When someone couldn’t wait to show the front page to him, the former secretary of state (for President George H.W. Bush) looked at it with icy hauteur, as if it were a trail of toilet paper someone tracked out of the men’s room, and replied: “Lovely. If we’re getting attacked by this rag, you know we’re doing something right.”
But it wasn’t just “this rag,” a “rag” friendly to the president’s interests. A chorus of others, including the occasional Democrat, regard the work of the Baker-Hamilton panel as a feeler for surrender. The closer someone looks at the fine print, in fact, the more theological it looks — not the work of “realists” but the predictable spin of partisan advocates. The Arab press loves it already, and why not? Mustafa Bakri, the editor of the Cairo tabloid al-Osboa, gleefully says the report signals “the end of America.” Mr. Bakri, like Jim Baker, admires Syrian President Bashar Assad, and urges Mr. Assad and his Arab brothers to “capture the moment as America now is in its weakest period.” The headline in a competing Cairo daily, al-Wafd, declares “Bush confesses defeat in Iraq.” What it means, the editor said, “is the real end of Bush rule, his policies and the neoconservative groups.” The Beirut daily al-Akhbar calls the Baker-Hamilton effort a “holocaust for American claims.”
The vindictive Arab use of the word “holocaust” is neither coincidence nor happenstance. There’s even a clause or two in the panel’s report to warm the hearts of the Jew-bashers at the State Department, ever eager to throw a stone or two (or three) at the Israelis. The report cites the Palestinian “right of return” to land long ago won by the Israelis as something still to negotiate, and if Mr. Baker, who never met a Palestinian red-hot he couldn’t make an excuse for, didn’t pencil that in, his hands are nevertheless sore from applauding whoever did.
No one expected the panelists to offer tips or pointers on how to invoke a miracle in Iraq. God sometimes appears to have given up on the Middle East, and Allah demonstrated a long time ago that he was playing out of his league. Look up the definition of “godforsaken” in your Funk & Wagnalls and you should find a map of “Arabia.”
George W. Bush appears to be rationing the nice things he’s saying about the efforts of Mr. Baker, if only to keep peace at the supper table when he goes home to see the folks. Some of his praise was barely faint enough to damn. “I thought this was a very constructive report,” he says. This is the diplomatic equivalent of a pat on the head for the old family retainer.
John McCain, who is not the equivalent of an old family retainer, let fly with the equivalent of the rubble-making thousand pounders he once dumped on Hanoi. “There’s only one thing worse than an overstressed Army and Marine Corps,” he said, “and that’s a defeated Army and Marine Corps. We saw that in 1973. And I believe that this is a recipe that will lead sooner or later to our defeat in Iraq.”
Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, a key Republican, disdains the report as “about as daring as a glass of warm water. They might as well have come out against crime. Do they think the president doesn’t want to end sectarian violence?”
The Baker-Hamilton panel delivered themselves of 169 pages of argle-bargle in the language so beloved on Capitol Hill, full of rant and second-guessing, accusing many and persuading few. Arglebargle never packs the punch of the obvious delivered with the bark on. John McCain said it plain: “I don’t believe that a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short-term gain.” Right on.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.