ByKenneth R.Timmerman
|December 15, 2006

Much ink has already beenspilled on the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. Welcomed byliberals and condemned by conservatives, more importantly it has beenrejectedby just every public figurein Iraq.

Without a doubt, thereport’s most controversial recommendation was the call fordirect talks with the governments of Syria and Iran. What has goneunrecognized, however, are the stunning misconceptions underlyingthat recommendation.

(Note: the page references below all refer to the PDF version of thereport, which can be
downloadedhere. All emphasis ismy own).

Misconception #1:“Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence eventswithin Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, theUnited States should try to engage them constructively.”(p7)

Neither Iran nor Syria has any interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq. Onthe contrary, their behavior shows that chaos and the collapse of theIraqi government are in fact their goal. If they had been concernedwith avoiding chaos in Iraq, they had many good opportunities tosupport the Iraqi government, to support the building of a nationalIraqi army, and to strengthen border controls. Instead, they promotedinsurgents whose goals were to ignite sectarian conflict.

Misconception #2:“In seeking to influence the behavior of bothcountries, the United States has disincentives and incentivesavailable.” (p7)

Since the 1979 revolution, the United States has repeatedly attemptedto “influence the behavior” of the regime, withoutsuccess. The Baker-Hamilton proposal is a warmed rehash of the samefailed policy we’ve been trying since 1979.

Following the seizure of US hostages in Tehran in 1979, the U.S. andits allies imposed sweeping diplomatic, economic, and politicalsanctions. Tens of billions of dollars of Iranian assets were frozenaround the world. The new Iranian regime became an instant outcast.Oil output plummeted to one third the pre-revolutionary levels.Unemployment soared. Per capita income collapsed - and has still notregained pre-revolutionary levels.

Despite these “disincentives,” the regime persisted inthe behavior we found objectionable.

One could draw similar examples from the 1980s, the 1990s, or thepast few years. Again and again, the world community has sought to “influencethe behavior” of the Tehran regime, and the regime has brushedoff threats and incentives alike. On the contrary, this is a regimethat has been willing to pay a tremendously high price in blood andtreasure to pursue its murderous policies.

Recall that the only reason the regime ultimately released the U.S.hostages in January 1981 was out of fear that the incoming Reaganadministration would join forces with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq andbring about the collapse of the regime.

Short of an all-out U.S. military assault on Iran, U.S. support forregime-change is the only approach that can avoid a future PersianGulf region dominated by a radical Iranian regime armed with nuclearweapons. Saying pretty-please, as the Baker-Hamilton group proposed,just isn’t going to work.

Misconception #3:“Several Iraqi, U.S., and international officials commentedto us that Iraqi opposition to the United States— and supportfor Sadr—spiked in the aftermath of Israel’s bombingcampaign in Lebanon. “ (p24)

This is pure mendacity, and is transparently false. It was the Feb.2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra (possibly carried out onorders from Iran) that ignited all-out sectarian conflict, not anIranian proxy war hundreds of miles from Iraq’s borders.

Misconception #4: Iraqcannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other majorregional issues, interests, and unresolved conflicts. To put itsimply, all key issues in the Middle East—the Arab-Israeliconflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms,and extremism and terrorism—are inextricably linked.”

This is the type of nonsense the Saudis, their Washington lobbyistsand others have been promoting for some time. Bombs are going off inNajaf? Hariri gets assassinated in Lebanon? It’s all the faultof the Jews. If there is logic here, it is not of the sort to makeAmericans proud.

Misconception #5:“&the Support Group should actively engage Iran andSyria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.

This is a prescription for transforming Iran into the superpower ofthe Persian Gulf. It’s no coincidence that following theseencouragements in the Baker-Hamilton report, Iran announced it wasinstalling 3,000 centrifuges in Natanz. Pay no price, pay no heed (oras my 13-year son would say, “No pain, no brain.”)

Note that the Saudis and their GCC partners are not the fools thatBaker and Hamilton appear to be. The day after the Iranian nuclearannouncement, the GCC announced that it would be studying a joint “peaceful”nuclear program,
asI reported earlier thisweek.

Misconception #6:“&[T]he United States and Irancooperated in Afghanistan, and both sides should explore whetherthis model can be replicated in the case of Iraq. (Recommendation 9 -p37)

Recommendation #9 is the core of the Baker-Hamilton argument forengaging Iran. Here they repeat Misconception #1 (that Iran actuallywants to avoid chaos in Iraq) and Misconception #2 (that the U.S. caninfluence Iran’s behavior by offering incentives), to arrive atMisconception #6, a historic misreading of what actually happened inAfghanistan following the September 11 attacks on America.

It should be noted that nowhere in the report does the ISG everdescribe how Iran cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan.In television interviews, Baker has referred to multi-lateral talkson Afghanistan’s future that included an Iranian governmentrepresentative.

But for the Iranians, the Afghan talks were a no-brainer. Once theUnited States had smashed the Taliban regime and demonstrated itsdominance in Afghanistan, of course the Iranians wanted tohave a stake in crafting Afghanistan’s future. No one else wasgoing to protect the Hazara community (Afghanistan’s Shiitepopulation). Iran felt a historic responsibility to step up to theplate.

It’s a safe bet that the Islamic regime in Tehran will takepart in international groupings that include U.S. representatives ifthey believe that is the only way of meeting their interests. Butthis is simply not the case in Iraq.

Beyond that, however, is an omission of tremendous significance. Farfrom opposing al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as the Baker-Hamilton reportsuggests, the Iranian regime provided material and logistical supportto al Qaeda before 9/11, and
openeda rat line to evacuate top al Qaeda operativesto Iran in the weeksafter the U.S. assault on Afghanistan began, as the 9/11 commissionreport reported.

Even today, Iran harbors several hundred top al Qaeda terrorists,including Osama Bin Laden’s eldest son Saad and al Qaedamilitary leader Saef al-Adel, whom they claim to be holding under “housearrest.”

Misconception #7:“&Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflamesectarian tensions within Iran, with serious consequences for Iraniannational security interests.” (p37)

Iran’s leaders don’t fear “sectarian tensions,”they have been stoking them. And should Saudi Arabia or others startto provide support for Azeri, Baluchi, or other separatists groupsinside Iran, don’t worry: the Rev. Guards will crack down in ahurry, and Amnesty International won’t be invited to theparty.

Like several other “incentives” listed by theBaker-Hamilton group, this is a straw man. (Other “incentives”they cite include things the Iranians know we will do anyway, such “preventingthe Taliban from destabilizing Afghanistan.”) The Iranianscertainly aren’t going to change their behavior to get what’sbeing given to them for free.

Misconception #8: Further,Iran’s refusal to cooperate [with the Support Group]would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United Statesin the broader dialogue it seeks (p38)

This statement combines two separate misconceptions: first, that Iranactually seeks a broader dialogue with the United States (it doesnot: it merely seeks an end to perceived U.S. support for regimechange), and second, that the United States might actually hold Iranaccountable if it refuses to adhere to U.S. conditions for ourcooperation.

The record of U.S. negotiations with Iran has been crystal clear: theminute the United States begins making concessions to Iran, we arealready have way down the slippery slope to capitulation. For proof,
re-readmy cautious welcome in these pages toCondoleeza Rice’s offer of a straight-up, black-and-white offerto Iran in May to give up its nuclear program. Anyone who thinks foran instant the Iranians aren’t aware of our dismal negotiationrecord has never tried to buy a Persian carpet.

Glimmers of truth occasionally make it through the smokescreen ofthis absolutely abysmal report. Proposed talksbetween Iran and the United States about the situation in Iraq havenot taken place. One Iraqi official told us: ‘Iran isnegotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad.’”(p25)

Given that no one is making the Iranians pay a price for “negotiating”with the United States by setting off shaped-charge IEDs that murderIraqis and U.S. troops, why should they sit with us and agree to makeconcessions?

If the Baker-Hamilton report had been written by high school freshmenwho had never left the American suburbs, one would give them a pat onthe back and suggest that they will change their tune once theyencounter the real world, where America’s enemies are numerous,determined, and deadly.

But Baker and Hamilton don’t have that excuse. Their report,which offers little more than U.S. capitulation, is based on lies andmisconceptions these veteran practitioners of U.S. foreign policy aresmart enough to understand.

The President should respond to it just as Baker demanded when hetold Congress not to consider it “like a fruit salad and say,'I like this, but I don’t like that. I like this, but I don’tlike that.'” He should send the report back to its authors witha Donald Trump cover note: “You’re fired!”

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