December 9, 2006
"Everything in the Middle East is connected to everything else."
So sayeth former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chairman of the recently completed Iraq Study Group report.
America has known for years that only an integrated approach to foreign policy problems can achieve acceptable solutions. Since the end of the war in Vietnam, war colleges and other centers of learning devoted to solving national problems have emphasized the strategic importance of America using diplomatic, economic and military solutions in unison.
How then, has the Iraq Study Group reached the conclusion that American involvement in Iraq has lacked certain elements of America's full resolve? Why is it taking a former Secretary of State to point out the obvious now?
Because in some cases, the wrong men may have been on the job.
For all his achievements, Colin Powell will probably be remembered by history as a failed Secretary of State. He was apparently duped into believing that weapons of mass destruction gave the President of the United States reason enough to invade Iraq. He made an impassioned plea to that end before the United Nations. But international diplomats rejected the argument outright.
Along with the Vice President, Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Tenet who called the situation a "slam dunk," it seems now that the administration stampeded itself into war.
And Colin Powell, himself a product of the Pentagon and not the diplomatic community, went along for the ride probably convinced that America's military could and would prevail.
The White House and the Pentagon were probably trigger happy following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. But at the State Department, the cradle of American diplomacy and foreign policy, where saner voices like that of James Baker would normally be heard, silence ensued. With a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as Secretary of State and his leading deputy Richard Armitage, there was a de-escalation of American diplomacy. In fact, State signed up to a policy of shunning members of the "Axis of Evil." Syria, Iran and North Korea became "persona non grata" and America refused to deal with them.
The term "persona non grata" is an officially recognized diplomatic term granted special status by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in April 1961. Chartered by the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities, the Vienna Convention took often used phrases of "diplomatic speak" and codified them.
But the United States, in branding nations as members of an "Axis of Evil," took the term "persona non grata" and applied it not just to individual persons but to entire nations. Syria, Iran and North Korea were branded as enemies and denied discourse which would normally have afforded ways to get released from the doghouse.
So what did these nations do? North Korea and Iran allied themselves and accelerated their nuclear weapon and long range missile programs. Syria became a stronger ally of Iran and agreed to support Hezbollah in its efforts to bring the downfall of Israel.
Now, former Secretary of State Baker and his team of solons says this was all a terrible mistake.
One key outcome of the Iraq Study Group, if anyone cares enough to listen, is a condemnation of the "Axis of Evil" line of thinking.