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30/10/2006 | CIA(R) MidEast Officer Ray Close on:

Ray Close

This is an expanded and more explanatory version of a confidential memorandum that I sent last week to my fellow members on the "working" level of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG). (Which is not to imply that the principals are not working very hard, too! They most certainly are!)


Dear Friends:

This is an expanded and more explanatory version of a confidential memorandum that I sent last week to my fellow members on the "working" level of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG). (Which is not to imply that the principals are not working very hard, too! They most certainly are!)

We have been strictly enjoined not to disclose to anyone outside the ISG group any details about the proceedings, but there is no prohibition against expressing our personal opinions to anyone we please. Several of my colleagues have authored op-ed pieces and been interviewed extensively on radio or TV --- including Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton themselves, of course. So there is no reason not to share the following personal views with you. Your suggestions and criticisms would be most welcome!

Unfortunately, our deliberations have been degenerating lately into petty squabbling over picayune issues of tactics, and I'm afraid I show that I have I lost my patience a little bit here. Some of our most obstinate neocon diehards are still trying to fashion a strategy that is no more than an ersatz version of "stay the course until we achieve victory". They have been wasting our time, in my view.

The good news is that I have already received positive feedback indicating that the strategy I suggest here is being seriously discussed with a few open-minded members of the present administration, encouraged by some senior Republican veterans of the Bush 41 era and by some influential American supporters of Israel who are blessed with long-range vision. Hopes that the strategy will be adopted by Bush 43 policy makers, however, remain slim, I'm afraid. But my intent is to encourage the ISG at least to recognize that the road to relative stability in the Middle East, rather than running "from Baghdad to Jerusalem", as the Bush Administration has always advertised, just MIGHT start out through Jerusalem and from there wind its way eastward to Baghdad. In my opinion, and in the opinion of every experienced Middle East specialist that I trust, the latter approach makes infinitely more sense. Certainly the opposite notion, that "victory" in Iraq would somehow facilitate an equally triumphant solution in Palestine, has been totally discredited. The time has come for a careful reappraisal of our whole concept of how to restore American credibility and influence in the region.

Note: Where I refer below to the ISG "principals", I mean Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton, Sandra Day O'Connor, Bob Gates, Ed Meese, Chuck Robb, Leon Panetta, William Perry, et al.


ISG Colleagues:

I'm tired of nit-picking over how we should bully the Iraqis into becoming better citizens of their own country. 

We need to concentrate on the mission assigned to us by the ISG principals, which is to devise a means of extricating America from this quagmire with some semblance of honor, leaving behind a situation that will allow the Iraqi people some modicum of hope for peace and stability. That's becoming a problem of staggering proportions, of course, but one that demands that we all step back and take a broader and more objective view of the situation, preferably on a regional scale.

For example, the principals don't need to be told again and again how important it is to disarm the sectarian militias in Baghdad, because we all know that's a task that the present Iraqi leadership lacks both the military means and the political will to undertake. It is an Iraqi internal problem that certainly cannot be solved by the United States through the use of massive firepower, or (as we are seeing more clearly every day) by imperious jawboning.

We all need to broaden the scope of our vision if we are going to come up with some fresh ideas that will help our own government escape the fog of confusion in which American diplomacy is wandering helplessly throughout the entire Middle East at present.

In other words, we need to change both the intellectual and the diplomatic environments in which the United States Government approaches what is becoming a catastrophe of global and historic proportions.

We need to propose a completely new policy initiative. The initiative that I want to table is (I would be the first to acknowledge) quite possibly beyond the imagination and the political capabilities (and the courage?) of the present administration --- even to contemplate, much less to implement. The White House and the Pentagon won't like it at all. That should not deter us, however. With tact and courtesy, it can, and must, be presented as a non-partisan, or rather bi-partisan, suggestion.

My suggestion is that we should subsume the Iraq problem within a larger set of regional issues, and treat the stabilization of Iraq as only one part of a new grand strategy for the Middle East as a whole. We need to change the frames of reference and to start the discussion all over again in a way that will enlist the interest and the support of some parties in the region who are presently doing nothing positive to help the situation, and are enjoying the spectacle of American disgrace and humiliation --- but who have vital national interests that will be seriously endangered by our failure. And that's where we are headed --- straight toward a trainwreck that will hurt many more governments and individuals than just the United States and the poor Iraqi people.

The process should start with the launching of a major initiative, promoted and vigorously supported by the United States, to reach a comprehensive resolution to the Israel-Arab crisis through a process of reasonable compromise and accommodation between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I believe that a fair and equitable solution to that problem, in which each interested party would be made to feel that its most vital concerns were recognized and accommodated, would be welcomed and supported by the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, the great majority of Arab states, and even Iran and Syria --- if structured with imagination and political courage, and if objectivity and a commitment to fairness were demonstrated by the President of the United States. Those who would not lend their active support would at least be reluctant to oppose a strategy that promised justice along with peace and stability. 

An appropriate starting-point for renewed negotiations has already been provided in the Arab Peace Initiative originally proposed by King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia in March 2002, to which no less than twenty-two Arab states subscribed. There is nothing in those sensible and reasonable proposals that is nearly as threatening to the safety and security of Israel as is the fresh hostility generated by Israeli and American treatment of the struggling Palestinian administration that was chosen in free and democratic elections last year. The Arab Initiative is a positive and constructive starting-point.

Despite recent events, the astounding reality is that the Israeli-Palestinian problem, intractable as it has always seemed over the past half century, nevertheless appears to be an easier problem to solve right now, today, than the one we face in Iraq, and the threat that we (and Israel) both potentially face from a nuclear Iran. Anyone who throws up his hands and loudly protests that solving the Israeli-Arab issue is out of the question and absurdly unrealistic had better ask himself if Israel's long-term security requirements would be better served by accommodation today than by nuclear exchange ten years from now. Against every objection to this approach, try balancing the long list of Catch-22s facing us in Iraq!

The launching of such an effort could completely change the political environment everywhere in the region, and might focus the world's attention on the pursuit of positive and constructive goals rather than merely on the approaching collapse and ignominious failure of the American enterprise in Iraq. 

Difficult? Of course! Impossible? Perhaps, given the resistance that it would encounter from those who have no faith whatsoever in the rationality of any inhabitant of the region outside of Israel. But certainly MUCH more hopeful than sticking stubbornly to the clumsy and incoherent and futile pursuit of "victory" in Iraq, and obstinate refusal to interact with our real and potentially very dangerous adversaries in Iran, Syria and Palestine.

And do you know who would benefit most from this strategy? Those Israelis and American Jews who hope to see the Zionist dream endure for more than a couple more decades. 

As a bonus, a fresh new approach like this might take some heat off of the beleagered Iraqi leadership --- providing them with some much-needed breathing-space to get their act in order --- something they will never achieve while they are feeling a hot spotlight of criticism focused on them from Bush, Congress, the Pentagon and the Green Zone.

Ray Close (Argentina)


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