Baker/Hamilton: A plea for a truce in the war at home
December 15, 2006
As I see it, the Baker/Hamilton Commission Report is an impassioned plea for bipartisanship as the Bush administration searches for a graceful exit strategy from the increasingly violent mess in Iraq. But extremists at both ends of the U.S. political spectrum equate a negotiated diplomatic solution with “surrender” and “defeat.”
Conservative right-wingers like talk radio blowhards Rush Limbaugh – who calls Baker/Hamilton the “Iraq Surrender Commission” – and Sean Hannity are demanding a military victory in Iraq, which is virtually impossible given the chaotic state of affairs in that unfortunate country. At the opposite end of the spectrum, left-wingers like incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and National Democratic Chairman Howard Dean favor an immediate pullout of American troops from Iraq. Anything less, they argue, would be a victory for President Bush, whom they despise.
That’s how things are in Washington, D.C., these days, and it’s a damn shame that our elected leaders are unable to sit down with each other and hammer-out a bipartisan consensus on Iraq that would be in the best interests of our nation. I’m old enough to remember when we had a bipartisan foreign policy under presidents Roosevelt and Truman. That’s how we won World War II and liberated the Europeans, giving them the freedom to criticize U.S. foreign policy for the next 60 years.
As I listened to former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and ex-House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, on “Meet The Press” last Sunday, I was struck by the conciliatory tone of their discussion. After all, Baker was instrumental in the Supreme Court’s decision to award the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000, while Hamilton was one of the leading Democrats in Congress. Nevertheless, they and other Commission members put their political differences aside in an effort to find a mutually acceptable solution to what has become an extremely unpopular, and very costly (in lives and treasure), U.S. military misadventure in the volatile Middle East.
Recent public opinion polls show that 70 percent of the American people oppose the president’s Iraq policy, and now that Bush’s stubborn “stay the course” strategy has failed, he has embarked on a so-called “listening tour” to plan his next move in this ongoing disaster. He’d better make up his mind before the death toll in Iraq surpasses the number of innocent civilians killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks because that’s when the American public will turn against the president and his ill-advised war with a Vietnam-type vengeance. That watershed moment will occur early next year as Democrats take control of Congress.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a 2008 presidential hopeful, presented a detailed and realistic analysis of the “grave and deteriorating” (Baker/Hamilton’s description) situation in Iraq in a recent speech at the Johns Hopkins School for International Studies in Washington. “The most pressing challenge for America today is Iraq,” he said. “The future of Iraq … will be decided by the Iraqi people. This reality must be the foundation for a new U.S. policy in Iraq.”
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“Today, the defining factor in Iraq is widespread and devastating sectarian violence,” Hagel continued. “America runs the very real risk of being maneuvered into supporting Shiite majority government against the Sunni minority. The United States is incapable of providing a solution to this civil war. To take sides in an Iraqi civil war would be to blunder into a trap of historic proportions. … There will be no military ‘victory’ in Iraq.”
Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, understands the limitations of U.S. military power and because there’s no military solution for Iraq, we must now turn to international diplomacy, as difficult as that might be for President Bush and his neoconservative allies (who got us into the Iraqi quagmire in the first place) to accept. As a former diplomat, I think this task will be extremely challenging, if not impossible, but it’s worth a try.
Although you might accuse me of “cutting and running,” I simply don’t see a graceful way out of Iraq; however, I oppose an immediate American troop withdrawal and we should never announce a public timetable. Nevertheless, Prime Minister al-Maliki has said that Iraq will be “fully ready to receive command” (take over its own defense) by next June and we should hold him to that promise by adopting the Baker/Hamilton recommendation for a gradual drawdown of U.S. combat troops to be completed in 2008. At the same time, we should support al-Maliki’s call for a regional conference on the stability and security of Iraq. And we should sit down with all of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, for tough negotiations involving their support for international terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere throughout the volatile Muslim World.
A QUESTION: Am I the only person in Northern Nevada who isn’t serving on one of Gov.-elect Gibbons’ many advisory committees? Just wondering …
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, is a 45-year resident of Carson City (but not 54 years, as last Sunday’s column stated).