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John Simkin

The Baker Report

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Iraq Study Group or Saudi Protection League?

by Greg Palast

They're kidding, right?

James Baker III and the seven dwarfs of the "Iraq Study Group" have come up with some simply brilliant recommendations. Not.

Baker's Two Big Ideas are:

1. Stay half the course. Keeping 140,000 troops in Iraq is a disaster getting more disastrous. The Baker Boys' idea: cut the disaster in half -- leave 70,000 troops there.

But here's where dumb gets dumber: the Bakerites want to "embed" US forces in Iraqi Army units. Question one, Mr. Baker: What Iraqi Army? This so-called "army" is a rough confederation of Shia death squads. We can tell our troops to get "embedded" with them, but the Americans won't get much sleep.

2. "Engage" Iran. This is a good one. How can we get engaged when George Bush hasn't even asked them out for a date? What will induce the shy mullahs of Iran to accept our engagement proposal? Answer: The Bomb.

Let me explain. To get the Iranians to end their subsidizing the Mahdi Army and other Shia cut-throats, the Baker bunch suggest we let the permanent members of the UN Security Council -- plus, Germany -- decide the issue of Iran's nukes. Attaching Germany is the signal. These signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agree that Iran should be allowed a "peaceful" nuclear power program.

More... Now, I am absolutely wary of neo-con nuts who want to blow Iran to Kingdom-come over its nuclear ambitions. But that doesn't mean we should kid ourselves. Iran has zero need of "peaceful" nuclear-generated electricity. It has the second-largest untapped reserve of natural gas on the planet, a clean, safe, cheap source of power. There's only one reason for a "nuclear" program, and it's not to light Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bedside lamp.

Here's the problem with Baker's weird combo of embedding our boys with Iraq's scary army while sucking up to the Iranians: it won't work. The mayhem will continue, with Americans in the middle, because the Baker brigade dares not mention two words: "Saudi" and "Arabia."

Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room (camel in the tent?) that can't be acknowledged -- and the reason Baker is so desperately anxious to sell America on keeping half our soldiers in harm's way.

James III wants to seduce or bully Iran into stopping their funding of the murderous Shia militias. But the Shias only shifted into mass killing mode in response to the murder spree by Sunni "insurgents."

Where do the Sunnis get their money for mayhem? According to a seething memo by the National Security Agency (November 8, 2006), the Saudis control the, "public or private funding provided to the insurgents or death squads." Nice.

Baker wants us to bribe or blackmail Iran into stopping one side in Iraq's uncivil war, the Shia. Yet we close our eyes to the Saudis acting as a piggy bank for the other side, the Sunni berserkers. (The House of Saud follows Wahabi Islam, a harsh, fundamentalist sect of Sunnism.)

Why is Baker, ordinarily such a tough guy, so coy with the Saudis? Baker Botts, the law firm he founded, became a wealthy powerhouse by representing Saudi Arabia. But don't worry, the Iraq Study Group is balanced by Democrats including Vernon Jordan of the law firm of Akin, Gump which represents … Saudi royals.

Of course, the connections between Baker, the Bush Family and the Saudis go way beyond a few legal bills. (See, "The Best Little Legal Whorehouse in Texas" from my book Armed Madhouse.

Baker is more than aware that, two weeks ago, Dick Cheney dropped his Thanksgiving turkey to fly to Riyadh at the demand of the Saudis for a dressing down by King Abdullah. The Saudis have made it clear that they will crank up their payments to warriors in Iraq to protect their Sunni brothers if America pulls out our troops.

King Abdullah's wish is Cheney's command -- and Baker's too. The Saudis want 70,000 US troops baby-sitting the Shia killers in Iraq's Army -- and so we will stay.

What gives King Abdullah the power to ghost-write the Iraq Study Group recommendations? It's not because the Saudis sell us broccoli.

And therein lies the danger. Behind the fratricidal fracas in Iraq is something even more dangerous than bullets in Baghdad: a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia to control Iraq's place in OPEC, the oil cartel. What is painted by Baker's Iraq Study Group as an ancient local clash between Shia and Sunni over the Kingdom of God, is, in fact, a remote control proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the Kingdom of Oil.

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Since the publication of the Baker Report, the British government has been unwilling to provide someone to go on radio and television to explain the current policy on Iraq.

This appeared in today's Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics...1975609,00.html

On the BBC's Today programme last week, John Humphrys issued a challenge to the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett. He complained that she had refused repeated requests to go on the programme, and called on her to give a proper interview. Yesterday, she did.

During the broadcast, however, she made a number of statements that seemed at odds with what had been said on previous occasions by ministers.

She found herself in particular trouble when responding to a six-page report by Britain's leading foreign affairs think-tank, Chatham House, that Tony Blair's legacy would be defined by the "terrible mistake" of the Iraq war.

Humphrys also pressed her about the testimony of Carne Ross, a former Foreign Office official. Mr Ross challenged Mr Blair's version of events in the run-up to the war in Iraq, primarily that Iraq posed a direct threat to the UK.

Humphrys and Mrs Beckett argued on a number of issues. Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian's diplomatic editor, examines their exchanges.

Was Iraq a direct threat to UK?

Humphrys told her: "Carne Ross said at no time did her majesty's government assess that Iraq's WMD or any other capability posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Mrs Beckett replied: "No one put that argument. What we put was the argument that he [saddam Hussein] was a threat to the region and that he had the ambition to be a threat to the wider world and Britain does have interests outside just our own shores."

Analysis Mr Blair said several times in the run-up to the war that Iraq posed a direct threat to the UK and its interests. In a Commons statement on September 24 2002, to mark the publication of the government dossier Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, he said: "If people say, 'Why should Britain care?', I answer, 'Because there is no way this man, in this region above all regions, could begin a conflict using such weapons and the consequences not engulf the whole world, including this country."

The dossier included a map of potential targets Iraq could hit, including Cyprus, home of a sovereign British base.

In an interview with CNN on January 13 2003, Mr Blair was even more explicit. "I would never as British prime minister send British troops to war, unless I thought it was necessary, but there is a direct threat to British national security in the trade of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

Iraq could mobilise WMD within 45 minutes?

Mrs Beckett said yesterday: "What was said throughout was that Saddam Hussein was a threat to his region and that he had the intention and the desire to be a threat much more widely."

Humphrys: "Forty-five minutes?"

Mrs Beckett: "John, you and I both know that that was a statement that was made once and it was thought to be of such little relevance, perhaps people began quickly to think 'I am not sure about that'. It was never used once in all the debates and questions in the House of Commons."

Humphrys: "It did not need to be. It was on the public record."

Mrs Beckett: "Oh, come on. nobody thought it was relevant. Nobody thought it was actually at the heart of the debate."

Analysis Mrs Beckett is incorrect when she suggests the 45 minutes claim was of little relevance. Mr Blair referred to it in his personal foreword to the dossier, saying Saddam's military planning "allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them".

In his Commons statement, Mr Blair said the intelligence "concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes."

The then leader of the opposition, Iain Duncan Smith, referred to the claim in his response to Mr Blair. The London Evening Standard carried the claim as a banner headline on its front page.

The importance of Mr Ross?

Mrs Beckett: "I am not sure how key Mr Ross was. However, put that on one side."

Humphrys: "Key enough to be called to the Butler inquiry."

Mrs Beckett: "Well, I think he said he volunteered to give evidence to the Butler inquiry."

Humphrys: "Lord Butler so naive he thought he was not important?"

Mrs Beckett: "Lord Butler took evidence from a great many people. And I am sure he thought some of them were more important than others."

Analysis Mr Ross was a British diplomat based at the British mission at the United Nations in New York in the run-up to the war in Iraq and involved in the negotiations. He was the first secretary at the mission from 1998 to 2002.

Has the Iraq invasion made the Middle East more dangerous?

Mrs Beckett: "I don't accept your underlying premise that what is happening in the Middle East is all about the war in Iraq. It's one in a string of events in and around the Middle East. The Middle East has always been a dangerous place. It remains so."

Analysis Most governments, and most thinktanks, would accept that the Middle East is more dangerous today than it was before the invasion of Iraq. Deaths in Iraq alone are running at about 4,000 a month.

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This article in last week's Sunday Times probably explains the US administration thinking on Iraq (December 24, 2006)

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2088-2517657.html

Send more troops to Baghdad and we’ll have a fighting chance

Frederick Kagan

A decisive moment in world history is at hand. If the United States, Britain and their allies fail in Iraq the result will almost certainly be a regional maelstrom. If the coalition succeeds, then the West will regain the initiative against radical Islam in Iran and throughout the Muslim world.

The current trajectory in Iraq is poor: rising sectarian violence threatens to rend Iraqi society and destroy America’s will to continue the struggle.

The choices are bleak: nobody has yet developed a convincing plan to resolve this conflict through diplomacy, politics or any other form of soft power. Hopes for success now rest on the coalition’s willingness to adopt a strategy of bringing security to the Iraqi population and confronting the sectarian violence directly as the prerequisite for subsequent political, economic and social development.

Embracing such a strategy would mark a dramatic change from the approach that the US military has pursued since April 2003. Since the beginning of the counter-insurgency effort US central command has focused on training Iraqi soldiers and police to establish and maintain security on their own. America’s own military efforts to establish security have been reactive, sporadic, under-resourced and ephemeral.

The creation of an Iraqi army that now numbers more than 130,000 troops is an impressive accomplishment, but that army has proved unable to stem the violence on its own. On the contrary, as its size and quality have increased the violence has grown even more.

Those well versed in the art of counter-insurgency will not be surprised by this phenomenon, since providing security to the population is a core task for any counter-insurgent force — as the recently released US military doctrinal manual on the subject emphasises.

It is now time to abandon the failed strategy of “transition” and return to the basics of counter-insurgency and stability operations by bringing peace to the Iraqi people.

Baghdad is the centre of gravity of the struggle in Iraq today. The United States, the government of Iraq and the insurgents have all identified it as the place they intend to win or lose. It is also the largest mixed community in Iraq.

Any hope for keeping Iraq together as a unitary state — thereby avoiding a genocidal civil and probably regional war — rests on keeping Baghdad mixed.

However, sectarian strife is leading rapidly to sectarian cleansing and many of Baghdad’s mixed communities are being forcibly purified. Bringing peace to those areas and ending the violence must be the primary task of coalition strategy.

Establishing security is a military task in the first instance. Troops must move through Baghdad’s neighbourhoods, examining every house and building, finding weapons caches and capturing insurgents and armed militias.

American forces have conducted many such operations in the past, including Operation Together Forward II as recently as the autumn.

In all previous operations the clearing of embattled neighbourhoods was followed by a rapid withdrawal of US forces. Insurgents of both sects then swarmed back in to the cleared areas to demonstrate the failure of the exercise by victimising the helpless inhabitants.

Success in such operations requires persistence. Once a neighbourhood has been cleared, US and Iraqi forces must remain to maintain security.

Partnered at the platoon or company level, they must live in the neighbourhoods and man permanent checkpoints. This approach was used with great success in Tal Afar in September 2005 and thereafter and is being used even now in some districts of Baghdad.

Units that remain in neighbourhoods rapidly gain the trust of the locals, who volunteer more information about troublemakers from within the neighbourhood and interlopers from outside.

The presence of US and Iraqi troops brings greater security, which enables the start of economic and political development. It is unfortunate that this basic counter-insurgency approach has been neglected so far, but it is not too late to undertake it.

Clearing and holding the critical mixed and Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad would require approximately nine American combat brigades, or about 45,000 soldiers. There are now five brigades operating in Baghdad, so America would have to add four more — about 20,000 soldiers.

In the past, central command generated surges in security in parts of Iraq by drawing forces from elsewhere. This approach created opportunities for the insurgents in the denuded areas. It would be wiser instead to couple a surge in Baghdad with an increase of troops in the other key hotbed of the insurgency, Anbar province.

There are now the equivalent of three brigades of US troops in Anbar. An additional two (about 10,000 troops) there would not allow the United States to clear and hold the province but would prevent insurgents fleeing the fight in Baghdad from destabilising Anbar further.

It would also place greater pressure on Al-Qaeda and the Sunni Arab insurgency, whose violent assaults on Shi’ite areas are a principal cause of the growth of Shi’ite militias.

Military action by itself will not lead to success, of course. The clearing of neighbourhoods must be accompanied by immediate reconstruction efforts.

These efforts should take two forms. All cleared neighbourhoods should receive a basic reconstruction package aimed at restoring essential services. But reconstruction can also be used as a form of incentive.

Neighbourhoods that co-operate with coalition efforts to maintain security could be rewarded with additional reconstruction efforts to improve their overall quality of life. These efforts should be channelled through Iraqi local (not central) government structures as much as possible.

The insurgents, particularly the Shi’ite Mahdi army, have begun imitating Hezbollah by providing services to the population of Baghdad in return for loyalty and support.

By offering reconstruction assistance through local Iraqi leaders, the coalition would get Iraqis used to looking to their own government for essential services.

Combining these efforts with the establishment and maintenance of real security would reduce the strongest recruiting tools that the Sunni and Shi’ite militias now have and would make possible future reconciliation and political progress.

The coalition forces can succeed in the end only if they can turn the responsibility for maintaining security over to the Iraqi forces; the training of the Iraqi army must also continue.

If a plan of this variety were adopted, in fact, the training of the Iraqis would improve dramatically. Embedding trainers in Iraqi units is a good start, but it is not as effective as partnering Iraqi units with coalition troops in planning and conducting missions.

This plan would also solve another critical problem: instead of presenting the growing Iraqi army with an ever-increasing security challenge, this strategy would lower the level of violence even as it expanded the Iraqis’ capabilities. Such an approach is the only way to make a successful transition to an independent and secure Iraq.

The increase in US troops cannot be short-term. Clearing and holding the critical areas of Baghdad will require all of 2007. Expanding the secured areas into Anbar, up the Diyala River valley, north to Mosul and beyond will take part of 2008.

It is unlikely that the Iraqi army and police will be able to assume full responsibility for security for at least 18 to 24 months after the beginning of this operation.

This strategy will place a greater burden on the already overstrained American ground forces, but the risk is worth taking.

Defeat will break the American army and marines more surely and more disastrously than extending combat tours. And the price of defeat for Iraq, the region and the world in any case is far too high to bear.

Frederick W Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq

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Some political commentators have been suggesting that Robert Gates has been brought in to organize the US withdrawal from Iraq. I think the opposite is the case. His role is to convince the Pentagon to support the idea of sending even more US troops to Iraq.

It is reported that George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he wants to increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers.

It seems my forecast was correct. Robert Gates testimony before the Senate Committee was just an attempt to fool the Democrats into accepting his nomination. From today onwards he will be arguing that to win the war the United States has to increase the number of US troops in Iraq. This is the politics of madness. Even if it was possible to suppress the insurgency, it would need a lot more that the 22,000 extra troops that Bush will announce today.

This is of course linked to the recent bombings of Somalia. These images of the war on terror being about hunting down the enemy by air will obviously go down with the right-wing. Not that it will do anything but increase the number of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists in Somalia.

The third strand of his policy is Iran. No doubt the Bush administration is looking for a Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to join forces with Israel for an attack on Iran.

Maybe our American members can tell us if Bush and Gates will get away with this. Or will the American politicians wake up and begin impeachment proceedings.

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It's a neat twist on democratic accountability. In last November's midterm elections, Americans sent a message as clearly as they could, short of hiring a plane to spell it out in skywriting above Pennsylvania Avenue: we want this war to end. Bush promised he had heard them - and is promptly doing the very opposite. One New York Times editorial wondered if he had even watched the 2006 election night results or whether he had just curled up in front of a videotaped repeat of the Republican victories of 2002.

The Republicans have form in this area, of course. In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on a promise to end the war in Vietnam: instead, it intensified until another 55,000 US troops were dead, along with an estimated 2 million south-east Asians. But Bush's showing of his middle finger feels more brazen, if only because it is not only the American public he is ignoring, but people you would think he might respect.

Only weeks have past since the Iraq Study Group, led by his father's consigliere, James Baker, recommended a face-saving extrication from Iraq. That plan is now binned. So too are the senior military leaders who counselled against sending more troops to fight a losing war. General George Casey will no longer be in charge, while General John Abizaid has been relieved of his post running Central Command, or Centcom. Both men opposed the "surge", calling instead for a gradual US withdrawal. The Arabic-speaking Abizaid had the audacity to say as much publicly: "The Baghdad situation requires more Iraqi troops," not more Americans, he said.

So now we know what the much-vaunted new Bush strategy for Iraq amounts to: throw more gasoline on the fire. It's conceivable that Bush is, in fact, planning an eventual withdrawal, but hoping that one last push will give him something he can call victory as a finale. Psychologists spot similar behaviour in compulsive gamblers who, when in trouble, increase their bets, hoping for a win that will allow them to leave the table with dignity. They have a word for such thinking: delusional.

And where do we Britons fit into this downward slide from purgatory into hell? Tony Blair is still on the old script. In an essay in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, he says we are not winning the war on terror "because we are not being bold enough ... in fighting for the values we believe in". Elsewhere, though, optimists see signs that we are gradually inching away from the calamity: they note Gordon Brown, our presumptive next prime minister, condemning the execution of Saddam Hussein as "deplorable." Perhaps that was a pointer to better things to come. But there is something lame about the current convention which allows our politicians to criticise discrete aspects of this war - the 2003 disbandment of the Iraqi army, the reconstruction effort, the conduct and filming of Saddam's death (though not the punishment itself) - while requiring them to stay silent on the crime of the invasion itself.

I know, I know, what else could Brown say, given that he voted for the war and sat next to Blair through it all rather than resigning in protest? But once he's in No 10 he will have to do better than stating the obvious about the barbarism of life in today's Baghdad. He will have to make a clean break from this most terrible chapter in British and American foreign policy and set out a new, radical strategy for the war against jihadism, one that understands that you don't catch the terrorist fish by machine-gunning them from the sky, but by draining the sea of grievance in which they swim. That work will be long and slow and require enormous political brainpower. And it is the polar opposite of everything George Bush stands for.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1986719,00.html

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I know, I know, what else could Brown say, given that he voted for the war and sat next to Blair through it all rather than resigning in protest? But once he's in No 10 he will have to do better than stating the obvious about the barbarism of life in today's Baghdad. He will have to make a clean break from this most terrible chapter in British and American foreign policy and set out a new, radical strategy for the war against jihadism, one that understands that you don't catch the terrorist fish by machine-gunning them from the sky, but by draining the sea of grievance in which they swim. That work will be long and slow and require enormous political brainpower. And it is the polar opposite of everything George Bush stands for.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1986719,00.html

Johnathan, over the years, I've enjoyed much of your material, so this is not from an entirely hostile reader.

However, your use of the term "war against jihadism" deals a fatal blow to the crediblility of the article cited above, IMO.

Is that the new in-vogue term for the discredited WoT?

Do you honestly believe this "war against jihadism" is "real'?

From my vantage point, it looks suspiciously like a contrivance of the western intelligence services and mass media, and bears a rather obvious "Made in Tel Aviv" label.

Edited by Sid Walker

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