On the Eve of the Baker Report

As the release of the Baker Report nears, I am still of the opinion that the grand strategy of the US to switch its focus from Europe to the Middle East and to promote modernization of the Arab world through promotion of democracy is still the right course overall. But I have certainly learned that while there are many in Iraq particularly who are ready for democracy there are too many who believe in totalitarianism to accomplish this goal as quickly as the US has attempted to. In retrospect I am convinced by the argument that we would have done better to stay with the Allawi interim government longer and allowed more time for the three main groups – Shiite, Sunni and Kurd – to work out their relationship through the negotiation of the constitution rather than after the political direction had been set by elections.

I think the situation is now what I had feared from before the time we invaded – the Shiite majority in control with the issues between the sectarian groups unresolved and each group understandably putting its own security before that of the nation as a whole. We are now stuck with a sectarian Shiite government that cannot and will not pursue a unified Iraq. The problem is political so it doesn’t seem to me open to a direct military solution. Even if we killed Sadr and defeated his Mahdi Army and reduced Ramadi like we did Fallujah I don’t think we would solve the political problems in Iraq.

So what are the likely consequences of the Baker Report. It depends on how it is used. If it is used as cover for a withdrawal that turns into a defeat as in Vietnam then it will be a disaster. That outcome will, unlike Vietnam, have consequences all over the world. The US will lose credibility. Japan and Taiwan will not be able to rely on US guarantees of their security. North Korea , to say nothing of Iran, will be emboldened. Pakistan may well see it in its interest to add its nuclear arsenal to the cause of radical Islam. If that sounds like the domino theory, well it is, and I think it is appropriate to this situation. It will also be an outright victory for al Qaeda and Islamic radicalism of all stripes and embolden the immensely. If, as many realize – even those wishing for the humiliation of Bush and the US – that a real defeat will have real consequences then the Baker report may be the basis on which to regroup and to try to work out a less ambitious but successful ending in Iraq. To as Hillary puts it “deal with the Iraq we have, rather than the one we wish we had.” John McCain is talking in terms of additional troops and stopping Sadr, but like Hillary, is looking to change course in such a way as to deny the totalitarians an outright victory.

I really don’t have a problem with a change of course. It is my guess that Bush could have done better or even won the mid term election if he had more vigorously taken the war to the enemy. Americans don’t like an ineffective president and I believe they will elect whoever they think will be most effective in 2008 whatever the situation is at that time. Not that there isn’t a substantial minority that believes that we are wrong to fight radical Islam aggressively, but I believe it will be the radical Islamists themselves who will continue to erode that point of view in the West. The Islamists may unstoppable in Europe, but I do not believe that in the long term the US will submit to Islam. Sooner or later we will fight seriously and effectively. If we turn Iraq into another Vietnam then it will be much harder. I hope we find a way of avoiding that outcome.

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