With U.S. casualties rising sharply and the level of sectarian violence reaching proportions that render the "debate" over "is there a civil war yet?" patently ridiculous, the great neocon vision of a "liberated" Iraq as a beacon for the region is a cruel joke. Slowly and inexorably, the realization that Gen. William E. Odom was right when he called the invasion "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history" is dawning on those dim bulbs in Washington, and the big question of the day is: what now?
The neocons, shrill and arrogant as ever, want to expand the war to Syria, Iran, and beyond. This has been their program all along, and they haven’t made any bones about it. Israel’s lobby in the U.S. is demanding war with Iran: once again the siren song of WMD is being played, but very few are listening. No normal person can look at the headlines and conclude that what we need is a bigger, better war that our central problem is we haven’t invaded and occupied enough countries.
Yet this doesn’t exhaust the possibilities of eventually salvaging the situation and rescuing the ruling elite’s floundering Iraq project from utter oblivion the solution, some aver, is to dress up the same interventionist mindset that preceded the invasion in the garb of "fresh thinking." In short, our policy in the region is overdue for a makeover without changing the underlying fundamentals and this is the task assigned to the Baker Commission, a motley crew from both parties, led by the venerable James A. Baker III, chief adviser to the president ‘s father.
It was Baker, you’ll remember, who sold the American public on the idea of the first Iraq war with the bright promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs." How hollow and irrelevant those words ring today (unless he meant military jobs and an increased demand for undertakers and graveyard attendants, both here and in Iraq). Quite aside from the moral obscenity of justifying mass murder and state terrorism in the name of job creation, Baker’s sales pitch turns out to have been a con job: if we look at the first Gulf war as the necessary prelude to the second and factor in the economic costs the lost resources, both human and material it is clear that we lost more jobs than were gained.
Nevertheless, Baker is seen, these days, as one of the few remaining Elder Statesmen left in the Imperial City, and he has been called on to chair what is being called the "Baker Commission," a panel of distinguished luminaries, bipartisan in nature, backed up by an advisory body chock full of policy wonks and former diplomats, the chief characteristic of which is the relative absence of neocons. Oh, there are some, Cliff May and Reuel Marc Gerecht, but for the most part the deliberations will be dominated by the centrist moderate majority: a coalition of Republican "realists" and Democratic "internationalists" who agree that we must salvage something from the ruins of Iraq if not our honor, then perhaps a few of our regional interests, such as the continued stability of the region.
I am not an expert in the field, but I see that, while the neocons are a distinct minority in this enterprise, the antiwar/noninterventionist think tanks are notable for their complete absence: there is no one from the Cato Institute, the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, or the Center for American Progress, nor any prominent figures who have unambiguously criticized the Iraq war from day one. A piece by Robert Dreyfuss in the Washington Monthly suggests the Commission is an effort to get the president to change his mind about the war an appeal to the king framed by his father’s consigliere. As such, I don’t believe it has much chance of success. Bush II seems to resent his father’s gentle attempts to proffer advice, and one doubts whether a more publicly assertive effort will dissolve the Boy Emperor‘s Oedipal grudge.
In any case, the Commission’s real purpose, Dreyfuss suggests, is to salvage the GOP from looming electoral disaster by framing a bipartisan consensus and constraining the Democrats in their critique of the war. Republican leaders, desperate at the prospect of losing big in 2008, are demanding that something be done to shore up their collapsing political base, and Baker the Bush family’s Mr. Fixit is being called on once again.
The members of the Commission and the various working groups are sworn to solemn secrecy and won’t release their findings until well after the November elections. We can have little doubt, however, that the goal is to forge a "consensus" that comes out somewhere between "stay the course" and "cut and run" the only problem being that there is no such creature. Fight or flight that is the classic choice we face, and no amount of rationalizing rhetoric or euphemistic phrases can deny or delay the day of reckoning, which is quickly coming to pass.
Despite the commissioner’s vow of silence, word has leaked out that the Commission is considering endorsing the idea of partitioning Iraq and this is bad news indeed. For what it means is that we haven’t learned the lesson of the Iraq war, and are still deluded enough to believe our intervention can do anything other than make matters worse. The breakup of Iraq has been the goal of the War Party from the very beginning: the atomization of the Arab states, and their degeneration into squabbling splinters, is a goal dearly beloved by the Likudnik progenitors of this war, and a partition plan would merely formalize it. It would also inflame Iraqi nationalists, from former Ba’athists to the Mahdi Army, and encourage ethnic separatism and religious sectarianism across the region.
This proposal is suffused with the same arrogance that infects the neoconservatives: it assumes that the Americans have a natural right to draw the world’s boundaries, that our leaders, on account of our unmatched military power, can determine the fate of faraway peoples with any level of understanding or empathy and without incurring widespread resentment and even hatred.
There is but one rational answer to the question of what to do about the rapidly degenerating military position of our troops in Iraq, and that is to get them out of there, pronto, without further delay. The War Party brays this means "cut and run" but if they applied this same intransigence to, say, the management of their stock portfolios, they would soon lose everything. One doesn’t keep investing in a losing stock, and this particular stock is plummeting so fast and so far that we can no longer afford to hold it. The best option, the only option, is to cut our losses and stanch the bleeding.
More than that, however, it is necessary to reevaluate our foreign policy in a more general sense: not revising and fine-tuning the interventionism that both parties embrace, but ditching the idea that we can or should somehow "lead" the world in any way other than by example. We must abandon not only the Iraq project, but the overarching neo-imperialist paradigm upheld by virtually all the major players in the foreign policy establishment. This will not only help us win the support of large sections of the Arab-Muslim world, but will also help prevent new Iraqs down the road.
Both wings of the War Party, the Democrats as well as the Republicans, are committed to the error of American "hegemonism," and concur that we need to police the world the only differences being over the depth of the footprint we leave in our wake. All agree that we need an empire of military bases, because it is somehow essential to our "national security" that we have the ability to leapfrog from one "lily pad" to another, so that our alleged "national interests" encircle the globe. Until we abandon this grandiose vision and scale down our ambitions to create a "new world order" as Bush I once put it we will continue to fall victim to the same hubris that was our undoing in Iraq.