Nearly four years after U.S. military forces toppled the Saddam Hussein regime, the United States faces a "grave and deteriorating" situation in Iraq and the Middle East, according to the bipartisan commission headed by the commission's co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.
The report painted a grim picture of the situation in Iraq and delivered 79 recommended actions.
"There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved," the report says.
The commissioners warn that if the situation continues to deteriorate, there is a risk of a "slide toward chaos (that) could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe."
"Neighboring countries could intervene. .... The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized," commissioners said.
President Bush received the report at a 7 AM White House breakfast meeting. The president said the report "gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion."
The report recommends more emphasis on key areas of U.S. effort including:
--Training Iraqi forces better and faster;
--"Training the trainers" here in the U.S. better and faster;
--Diplomacy; especially an opening of a dialogue with Iran and Syria.
General Eric Shinseki has also been vindicated. While Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army before the invasion of Iraq, he told Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld he needed a lot more troops in his plan to rapidly stabilize and assure security after Saddam's government fell.
When General Shinseki retired, neither Rumsfeld nor his Deputy Secretary of Defense attended the retirement ceremony.
The New York Times reported on the disagreement between general Shinseki and Mr. Rumsfeld in an article on February 28, 2003: "Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, 'wildly off the mark.'"
Mr. Wolfowitz doesn't look so darned brilliant now.
The commission on Iraq also calls into question, in a round about way, the U.S. State Department. The commissioners recommend new diplomatic initiatives and call the State Department's "Hearts and Minds" element of the war (headed by Karen Hughes) a failure.
There has been some concern for at least two years by many of us who watch the State Department. President Bush abruptly fired Colin Powell as the Secretary of State on November 15, 2004. To be totally accurate, the Washington Post reported at the time that Powell had been told to resign by the president's Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
That public display of disaffection followed a strange phase that included Secretary of State Powell making the case before the U.N. that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. When WMD did not appear in Iraq, some said Powell had been "used" by the administration.
Then we have the saga of the new Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleezza Rice. I'll try not to harp on her too much but I will tell you this: when Secretary of State Rice heard about the disaster of Katrina in New Orleans, she was buying shoes at Ferragomo. That night she went to a Broadway show. The next day she was hitting tennis balls with Monica Selles.
In July 2006, the U.S. Secretary of State was scheduled to go to Vietnam. We cared about this trip to Vietnam for many reasons; not the least of which was that the Communist government had been holding an American citizen, Mrs. Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, without charges, medical care or legal council for over a year. We had high hopes that the Secretary of State would encourage her hosts in Vietnam to rapidly release Mrs. Foshee.
But Secretary of State Rice cancelled her mission to Vietnam last July because of the pressing business of the war between Israel and Hezbollah -- even though she made it all the way to Malaysia at just about the same time she was supposed to be in Vietnam.
In fact, that July trip by the Secretary of State was supposed to be a diplomatic mission to Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.
All this diplomacy never happened, save the Malaysia piece. Given recent events in North Korea and the difficult decisions to be made now, would that July trip have paid some dividends? Perhaps.
Last July the Secretary of State, unfortunately, could not make it to Vietnam, Japan, China, or South Korea due to the war in Lebanon. But she did make it all the way to Malaysia to entertain other diplomats at a dinner by playing the piano (Brahms' Sonata in D Minor, 2nd Movement).
So, because our nation did not have a special envoy to the Middle East, and the Secretary of State tried (and failed) to meet all her diplomatic responsibilities, Mrs. Foshee remained in jail in Vietnam. And who knows what else the United States left on or under the table unattended to with China, Japan and South Korea.
Finally, this State Department has been the architect of a plan that refuses to discuss, on a one on one basis, any issues with at least three important nations: Syria, Iran and North Korea. The commission on Iraq recommends that dialogue be opened with Syria and Iran.
We believe the Baker, Hamilton Commission of Iraq has done the nation a great service. It will be interesting to see how many of their recommendations are embraced and implemented.
A Few Notes:
The Iraq Study Group was the brainchild of Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). Wolf started to talk to people about a set of "new eyes" to study the situation in Iraq and make recommendations following his third trip to Iraq in September 2005.
The members of the group include Lawrence Eagleburger (secretary of state under the first President Bush), Vernon E. Jordan Jr. (former adviser to President Bill Clinton), Edwin Meese III (attorney general under President Ronald Reagan), Sandra Day O'Connor (former Supreme Court justice), Leon E. Panetta (chief of staff under Clinton and Democratic former representative from California), William J. Perry (secretary of defense under Clinton), Charles S. Robb (Democratic former senator from Virginia) and Alan K. Simpson (Republican former senator from Wyoming).