So the Baker-Hamilton Commission decided, among other things, that we must engage in direct talks with Iran and Syria. As loyal readers of this column may remember, we called for the Iraq Study Group to make just such a recommendation (Shaking Hands with Extremists: An Exit Strategy , 22 October, 2006). Since the report's release on Wednesday, this has become one of the commissions most controversial points.
In his press conference with Tony Blair yesterday, President Bush was adamant (shock!) that the United States will not talk to Iran until it steps back from its nuclear enrichment program. Nor will there be any discussions with the Syrians until they stop trying to "de-stabilize" Lebanon.
Not to include regional powers in talks aimed at stabilizing Iraq is stubborn and shortsighted (and not limited to the administration, but more about that later). It also indicates that this administration will only accept a "working" Iraq on its own terms, which, according to the ISG, are no longer attainable.
Still, Bush speaks of his consensus-less success as if it were still just around the corner. He does not admit that success became failure in Iraq years ago. "If we were to fail," he said yesterday, phrasing it as a hypothetical even though it has already happenned, "If we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future."
Doesn't that sound like something that should have been said before March, 2003? It appears Bush is setting it up to look like failure will be the future's fault - a future Congress, a future president - and not his own, criminal stubbornness.
And while we await the immediate future Congress and what they will or won't do about Iraq, the Senate Armed Service's Committee questioned the members of the Iraq Study Group yesterday. They also had something to say about engaging Iran and Syria in the process. Not surprisingly, Senator Joseph Lieberman wondered aloud if Iran was willing to "help the United States succeed" in Iraq.
Joe misunderstands the same thing that many who cling to this entanglement do: we are not there for the benefit of the United States. We haven't benefitted at all since Saddam fell. Our goal now is to help the Iraqis succeed, not the U.S.
That is the point of the Baker-Hamilton / Iraq Study Group report: the United States has failed in the goal of stabilizing Iraq. There is no more succeeding. It's a done deal. The report begins with that brutal, honest assessment. That is why we must create a new regional consensus - so Iraq can succeed, in spite of us and the mess our president's policy has made.
If U.S. policy is to have the Iraqis stand up, we need regional cooperation to help hold them up while we crawl out from under their massacred bodies.