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Iraq: Another Pointless 'Blue-Ribbon' Commission?

I tend not to have a very high opinion of "Blue Ribbon" commissions and similar enterprises involving famous names called in to lend their wisdom on an issue of public controversy. This skepticism was deepened by reading an article in the Washington Post on the Iraq Study Group, a low-profile bipartisan group of very high-profile individuals charged with studying Iraq for a few months to "save" the country ("Called From Diplomatic Reserve: Former Secretary of State Leads Attempt to Salvage Iraq Mission"). Or, as the partisan writer of this news article put it, "Is Jim Baker bailing out the Bushes again?" (And, of course, the subheading was biased; this should have appeared in the opinion section, not the news.)

Yes, the group is co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, and also includes, among others, Sandra Day O'Conner, who knows a bit about the law, Rudy Giuliani, who knows a bit about domestic security issues, and two Clinton officials, attorney and Clinton golf partner Vernon Jordan and former chief-of-staff Leon Panetta. It wouldn't bother me if Panetta headed up a group on budget reform or if Giuliani chaired one on police reform. But none of these individuals knows Arabic, and aside from Baker, none has significant experience in the region. It would be as if a group of eminent Turks were to travel to the United States and began to make recommendations on urban renewal or prison reform although none of them knew English or had significant previous experience with the country.

It does not help that the Post writer chose to use the article to promote the group and its mission. Baker is indeed a skilled diplomat, but Iraq's problems have little to do with diplomacy, and skill in managing differences is of little use if one's underlying substantive ideas are wrong. This point is illustrated by a quote from the article:

"I think he basically wants to call it the way he sees it," said this source, a critic of the administration's approach to Iraq. "He's also been frustrated by the mistakes that have been made. In many ways, it has damaged the legacy he established as secretary of state."

Yet the two areas in which Bush I-Baker established a legacy in the Middle East - Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - have both turned out disastrously. In the former case, the U.S. ended up supporting sanctions which starved much of Iraq's population but didn't starve Saddam's terror network, and in the latter the Oslo Peace Accords and the 1990s "peace process," the primary consequence of which was the arming and empowerment of Palestinian terrorist groups. In 1989 Palestinians were throwing stones, while in 2000 they were firing mortars, and Oslo made the difference. Baker surely listened to "experts" at the State Department and the intelligence community who told him that removing Saddam would bring an Iranian-style state to Iraq and that Yasser Arafat could be trusted. They were wrong on both counts, and much of Bush II foreign policy has been spent correcting the flawed legacy of Bush I.

Baker has said that the group intends to publish its recommendations after the elections in November in order to protect it from partisan influences. He could go a step better and save the taxpayers whatever is being spent to fund this group, and shut it down now.