Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

Arabs, Israelis voice pessimism on Baker/Hamilton

COMMENTARY | December 11, 2006

The overseas press: Arabs are lukewarm to the Iraq Study Group’s report and skeptical of implementation; Israelis are critical of both the findings and the recommendations.

By John Burke

PARISIn the region where the Iraq Study Group matters most, opinions on its report were mixed. 

Papers in the Arabic world received the Baker/Hamilton suggestions lukewarmly. Some were thankful to hear ideas of an alternative policy and trumpeted the sense of failure the report shed on the Bush Doctrine that has caused them so much turmoil. Still, despite an American public increasingly at odds with the war and the turnover to a Democratic Congress on the horizon, they were doubtful the American Executive would heed the bipartisan findings.

Israeli papers wondered what an investigation into the War in Iraq had to do with their country’s conflict with the Palestinians. But mostly, they worried about Iran. Inviting a regime that openly champions the destruction of the Jewish state to exercise even more of its growing influence over the region was a decidedly unattractive proposal for Israelis fearing a nuclear armed Tehran.

A roundup of the Arab press done by United Press International showed that the findings of the Iraq Study Group dominated the front pages of Arab newspapers:

Jordan: Iran the only victor in conflict

“Jordan's Al Arab Al Yawm said while the recommendations were not binding, they nevertheless constitute an ‘admission of an American defeat in Iraq.’

“The daily, which describes itself as independent, opined that US President George W. Bush has officially been defeated in the war on Iraq…

“The only victor so far, it argued, has been Iran, since the invasion and occupation of Iraq ‘destroyed the largest Arab barrier in the face of [Iran's] regional [expansionist] ambitions in Iraq, where the United States has sunk in the quagmire.’

“The occupation, it said, has made Iran into a powerful regional force, insisting Tehran will come out even stronger from the ‘American failure if that Arab country is left in a state of total chaos and violent destruction without serious and immediate Arab action.’

Palestinians: Aspects of the report shortsighted

“The London-based Al Quds Al Arabi said the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq reflects the crisis facing the Bush administration and the neoconservatives that dominated an administration that has been serving Israeli interests…

“It argued the report totally ignored the Iraqi resistance and did not call for dialogue with the resistance, ‘which had foiled the American occupation plan in Iraq…’

“The paper, distributed in many Arab capitals, added while the report called for the participation of Iran and Syria in trying to restore calm in Iraq, it excluded the participation of Iraq's other neighbors, ‘which is a serious gap that shows shortsightedness.’

Egypt: Bush unlikely to respond to recommendations

“Egypt's Al Ahram predicted the Bush administration will be unlikely respond to the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, but will use them to minimize the pressure it is facing regarding its strategy in Iraq.

“The mass-circulation daily said regional parties, such as Iran and the internal Iraqi rivals, were also unlikely to commit to the recommendations.

“It insisted there should be an Arab and international effort to pressure all the involved parties in the Iraq conflict, starting with the United States, to place a timetable for withdrawal and to persuade the Iraqi government to change the way it is dealing with the Sunnis to make them feel the government is for all Iraqis, not just for the Shiites.

Qatar: Admitting failure a step in the right direction

“Qatar’s pro-government daily, Al Rayah, argued that the report revealed the failure of the Bush administration's plans in Iraq and that ‘admitting failure should be a courageous entry to confront the conditions…’

“It said (Iraqi Prime Minister) Maliki's call for a regional conference of neighboring countries and another for the Iraqi political forces is a positive measure that will support the ISG report, ‘which ignored the domestic side to the crisis and focused on the security repercussions.’

“The paper said the Baker-Hamilton report's recommendation to include Syria and Iran through dialogue is a correct doorway toward reaching a solution to the Iraqi crisis.

United Arab Emirates: Report offers no solution to Iraqi 'tragedy'

“The United Arab Emirates' Al Khaleej said in its editorial the ISG report will not contribute to finding a deep-rooted solution to the Iraqi ‘tragedy,’ although it might appear to help the American administration in ending its involvement in the country.

“The pro-government daily opined the substance of the report seeks to minimize the American losses through decreasing the number of troops and to change their mission to become one of support, rather than direct operations.

“‘This proposal indicates it would be possible to extend the presence of the American occupation,’ it said, adding this is not surprising since the ‘American elite sees the need to preserve the global US hegemony.’

“Such proposals, it insisted, will not restore stability and security to Iraq, adding those who wrote the report have put American interests as a top priority, ‘and this is not necessarily in harmony with Iraqi interests.’"

In an anti-Israeli editorial, a write for the Saudi-based Arab News says “Amen!” to the ISG report’s recommendations, especially the need to invite Damascus and Tehran to the table:

“It is frustrating to hear the arguments of the ISG critics. They come strong, for example, against any contacts with the so-called evil regimes — Syria, Iran and Hamas. That is amazing coming from a country that kept a presidential hotline with the worst of its enemies, the Soviet Union, for forty chilling years.

“Such contacts saved America and the world from nuclear annihilation more than once, the most famous being the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The lesson here was, you lose nothing by talking to your enemies, but you may lose everything by not doing so…

“In the case of Iraq, all, except Israel and the warlords, have the same interests — peace and stability. This is a good start…

“There are enough gains for all from a comprehensive peaceful solution for the region’s staggering conflicts — including Israel. That is what the Iraq Study Group found, and that is what we were advocating for ages…

“Since America, with the powerful Israeli lobby in control of its Mideast policies, cannot play the honest broker, the way out is what the Baker-Hamilton report advised: An international conference that includes every stake holder in the region plus Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Europeans and the United Nations. The same goes for Iraq and Iran — the multinational, multilateral approach is the one and only way to go.

“From what I hear, the new Congress is all for the ISG recommendations. The question is, will this administration buy in? Or is it too invested in its arrogant policies that we have to endure the hell waiting until a new administration takes over? Only Cheney can tell!”

Although not a cure-all for the Iraqi quagmire, Lebanon’s Daily Star hails the ISG’s push for a “new way” and views it as the “last chance (for Bush) to salvage his reputation”:

“While (the ISG report) offers no surefire remedies, it does represent an opportunity to cure the severe case of denial from which US President George W. Bush's administration has been suffering… It is clear… that Washington's approaches to Iraq and the broader Middle East have been a colossal and costly failure. The best course to take is by no means obvious, but the need to abandon the current one is precisely that.

“As is frequently the case when an American president nears the end of his time in office, senior White House officials are now working feverishly to burnish the legacy their boss will leave behind. Theirs will be an uphill battle, especially when one considers that the incoming defense secretary, Robert Gates, has publicly conceded that the centerpiece of Bush's presidency, the war in Iraq, is not being won. Bush and his most trusted advisers have repeated a key error of Vietnam-era administrations by repeatedly misidentifying individual events as turning points, only to watch helplessly as the situation continued to deteriorate. Gates has served notice that he has no plans to be a sycophant who regurgitates the White House's fantasies about how "well" the war in Iraq is going. What remains to be seen is whether the man in the Oval Office can be persuaded to discard the policies to which he has clung for so very long…

“It is not easy for anyone to accept that they have championed a path of folly, least of all the leader of the world's most powerful country. There is no other way, though, for Bush to salvage his presidency. The beauty of democratic systems in general - and of America's in particular - is a capacity for self-diagnosis. If Bush fails to take advantage of what is almost certainly his last chance to avail himself of this happy circumstance, he will richly deserve the scorn of history that surely awaits him.”

The Tehran Times is skeptical of the ISG’s suggestions, but doesn’t think that’s the main issue: Bush is likely to ignore them anyway: 

“When an official American report talks about collapse in Iraq and catastrophe sweeping through the region, its sheer novelty after years of denial gives it a certain credibility. Don't be fooled. The Iraq Study Group's report is just as unrealistic as all the other plans for getting the United States out of Iraq without loss of face…

“Build up the Iraqi army and police? They are already divided into sectarian units that will not act against their own sect. Get Iran and Syria to help? Why on earth would they, after being painted as ‘rogue states’ by Washington for the past six years? Broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal? Sure, with a Bush administration that has never dared to put any pressure on Israel, Hamas at the heart of the elected Palestinian administration, Lebanon trembling on the brink of a new civil war, and a largely paralyzed cabinet of discredited hawks clinging to power in Israel.

“In any case President George W. Bush, one of the world's more stubborn individuals, will probably reject any recommendations that require abandoning his delusional optimism on the subject. It is very unlikely that the bulk of the U.S. troops will be out of Iraq before the next U.S. election in November, 2008. However, it is very likely that they will be out of Iraq six months later, no matter whether the new president is a Democrat or a Republican. And what will happen then?...

“But the broader predictions of chaos spreading through the region borne by refugees and ‘Islamist terrorists,’ of regimes toppling and Shia-Sunni conflicts erupting from Bahrain to Lebanon, are probably wrong. These dire predictions are about as credible as the old ‘domino theory.’ Just as the U.S. administration exaggerated its power to effect change on the way in, so it overestimates the harm that it is likely to do by leaving.”

A columnist for the Israeli National News rails against the ISG’s connection between Iraq and the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, deeming the report a “Waste of Paper:”

“While it may have been prepared by diplomatic heavyweights such as former US Secretary of State James Baker, this report has got to be one of the least creative and least imaginative set of policy recommendations to have been produced in Washington in a long, long time…

“Does Mr. Baker really believe there is a connection between Shiites and Sunnis killing each other in the streets of Baghdad, and Israel holding on to the Golan?

“The logic of the report is so transparently silly, and so intellectually vacuous, that it is nothing short of amazing that anyone could take it seriously.

“Here's my prediction: the Baker report will create some waves, but it will shortly end up being tossed into the ‘circular file’ that is cleared out at the end of each day by the janitorial staff – which is about where it belongs.”

The Jerusalem Post is wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East that the ‘realist’ report makes no proposals to curb. ISG suggestions to rethink American foreign policy are welcomed, but the Israeli daily rejects the methods through which the report would like to rethink it:

“How embarrassing. Senior figures from both major American parties have, in broad daylight, betrayed such staggering naivete that their report might not have passed muster with a reasonably discerning high school teacher, let alone offered a serious basis for US foreign policy.

“One wonders whether a single Iraqi, Jordanian, or Saudi with whom the committee spoke believes that Iran ‘has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq.’ The report itself delicately admits that Iran "supports various Shia militias in Iraq."

“It is difficult to believe that anyone seeking to reduce Iranian influence in the region would advocate inviting Iran and Syria to join in an ‘Iraq Support Group.’ For what purpose? On what basis?

“We can only hope that the unrealistic nature of such proposals will shock Americans from both parties out of their faddish swooning over the ‘realist’ camp. It does not take too much scratching under the surface, after all, to discern that what this camp is trotting out is more surrender than solutions…

“There is something fundamental, however, that the Baker-Hamilton report did get right, that ‘US foreign policy is doomed to failure - as is any course of action in Iraq - if it is not supported by a broad, sustained consensus.’ America is indeed in dire need of a consensus foreign policy. The question is: Can President George Bush build that consensus around something other than the Baker-Hamilton call to surrender?

YNetNews, an English-language Web site of Israel’s largest media company, Yedioth Group, scrutinizes James Baker’s foreign policy record, deciding that his role as ‘master dealmaker’ is one to be aware of:  

“The failed diplomatic record of James Baker, who submitted his recommendations regarding the war in Iraq to top Bush Administration officials, stands in contradiction to his impressive record in Washington's business and political arenas.

“Therefore, the adoption of his recommendations would serve anti-American terror elements and undermine pro-American moderate elements…

“The adoption of his recommendations would advance the Iranian nuclear effort, turn Saudi Arabia and Gulf states to Teheran's hostages, free Assad from the noose of international pressure tightening around his neck, endanger the regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and force Israel to act unilaterally in order to remove the lethal Iranian threat…

“Baker's determination to strike a "deal" at any price leads to the sacrifice of long-term interests on the altar of short-term illusions. Yet James Baker is determined to learn from history by repeating strategic mistakes rather than avoiding them.

“Will American and Israeli leaders adopt Baker's "pragmatism" and "realism," or would they be wise enough to learn from his failures?”

Posted by Jerome Dobbins - citizen
12/17/2006, 08:39 AM

I believe the ISG report to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. In the Armed Services committee hearings last month the comment was made that they were "tired of hearing that the next six months are crucial, that they heard that every time there was a hearing." The ISG report now gives Bush his two more years to "fix" Iraq. Bush has already said a while back that it will be up to another President to withdraw from Iraq. He has his library to think of.

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.