The Baker-Hamilton Study: Pluses and Minuses
William R. Polk
‘In recent days, as you know, there has been a great deal of publicity on the Baker-Hamilton plan for dealing with the problems the United States faces in Iraq and for restarting the peace process on the Palestine problem. I have found, however, very little analysis of the plan in the press. Clearly, it focuses on issues so important , one is tempted to use that often misused term “vital,” not only for Americans but for the whole world that it deserves the closest possible scrutiny. As you will see in the following comment, I find serious weaknesses in it. The most serious is that it sets out objectives or desires without identifying feasible means to achieve them.
In the last few days, various moves have been made by the Bush administration that call into question its serious evaluation of Baker-Hamilton. One that received a great deal of attention is the announcement of its intent to add another 20,000 troops to the American contingent in Iraq. Those of us who remember Vietnam will hear echoes. There we were told time after time that just a few more thousand troops and a few more months would lead us to “victory. One difference from Vietnam is of critical importance. It is that there we were not seriously considering, as apparently we are, further action in another country. Today, there are signs that we have hovered on the brink of war with Iran for at least the last six months. As you may know, I have written on this danger on my website (www.williampolk .com). I think we are edging closer. Among the signs – and there are many — that point in this direction is one that I do not find reported in the American press: the Selective Service System announced three days ago that it is preparing its first test since 1998 of the draft.
All the above considerations make a careful consideration of American options on the Middle East a prime civic duty for all Americans. These include the detailed plan which Senator George McGovern and I developed in Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (New York: Simon and Schuster, October 2006) and the Baker-Hamilton study, The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward – A New Approach (New York: Vintage, December 2006). Mr. Hamilton graciously wrote to say that “The report has helped to spark a renewed debate about the direction of U.S. policy, and he appreciates the substantial contribution that you and Senator McGovern have made to that debate.” Our book speaks for itself; here I want to [analyze] the Baker-Hamilton Plan:
The most important positive element in the Baker-Hamilton study is to focus attention on the central predicament of the Middle East – the Arab-Israeli problem. Like a cancer, this issue has infected Middle Eastern affairs for over half a century. No American administration has chosen to attack it head-on. Simply giving Israel a blank check to do anything it decides to do is not an American policy. Indeed, as many thoughtful Israelis have pointed out, it is bound to bring out the worst in Israeli politics. For alerting the government and the public to the need to do something to solve or at least put into remission this problem is important and for doing so Baker-Hamilton deserves praise.
Read all of it at Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment.