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Television Panel Discussion
America - Inter American Forum
The Baker Plan or Troop Surge in Iraq:
The Iraq Debacle and New Bush Strategies
Adriana Amat, VOA: The highest ranking US military commander
recommended privately to president George W. Bush that he change the principal military
mission in Iraq from combating insurgents to training Iraqis to stop terrorists. Never the
less, President Bush affirmed that he would not make a hasty decision under pressure about
a change in course over Iraq. additionally, it was announced that Bush would deliver an
important speech about Iraq strategy before Christmas, but decided to postpone it until
the beginning of 2007. Meanwhile, Senator John McCain said on Thursday that the US should
send 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to control sectarian violence, and give Iraqi
politicians the stability to put the country on the right track. John McCain gave these
remarks in a press conference in Baghdad accompanied by five other members of Congress who
later met with functionaries of the US government and Iraq.
To analyze this theme we've invited Grant Smith, of the Institute
for Research: Middle Eastern Policy. Grant, as always, it is a pleasure to have you
with us on Inter American Forum.
Grant Smith, IRmep: Thank you very much.
Adriana Amat, VOA: What is the best that can happen in this moment, or
the least worst, in Iraq. Send more troops, or start to withdraw them.
Grant Smith, IRmep: Well, that's the big question. I think we ought to
mention that there was a study group on Iraq, led by James Baker, that recommended a
reduction in troops between now and 2008. They were very conscious that in the elections
of 2006, the American public doesn't support much more activity in Iraq, and the general
sentiment is for a withdrawal. The Baker plan went
off like a bomb in Washington, with its suggestions that are basically, in terms of
ideology, confronting the Bush policy up until now, with recommendations for more
relations with Iran and Syria, paying attention to the Israeli/Palestinian peace process,
and basically abandoning the direction they've been following until now.
Adriana Amat, VOA: But, I repeat the question. I don't think you've given
a response, what is the right thing, put in more troops as Senator McCain is calling for
Grant Smith, IRmep: Fine, that's a plan that's been mentioned. That they
should send up to 40,000 to Bagdhad to secure it, and give more support to the political
representation, but the fundamental problem is that there is a center of power, made of
people like Ali al Sistani, Muqtada al Sadr, and the armed groups who are supporting them,
as well as the Kurds, and the Sunni, and the government, which is not the center of power.
What the Baker plan was looking to accomplish, and what they've not mentioned in any of
the plans to "surge" troops, is how to synthesize power centers and the
government through US troops. The other plans, including the "80% plan", which
we haven't talked about, anticipate that kind of synthesis. That Iraq really has to have a
government that is a center of power, not just a puppet of American troops.
Adriana Amat, VOA: The argument for sending more troops, according to
McCain, is that they want to "win Baghdad". Is that naive? Win control of
Baghdad, and that way recover gradual control over the rest of the country?
Grant Smith, VOA: Theoretically, to control 20% of the population in one
city, is to control the capital, but what matters in Iraq, as we all know, are the
petroleum resources, resources in far flung regions, not just the capitol. My response is
no, some of the analysts of the Baker Group and others who want to really confront the
political problems of power centers and the government, this is more important than simply
controlling a bigger "green zone" in Baghdad.
Adriana Amat, VOA: Fine, we needed three questions to get the answer.
Grant Smith, IRmep: Well, it is complicated, isn't it?
Natalia Orozco, RCN Television, Colombia: There is a rhetorical question
about whether there is a civil war in Iraq. The retiring Secretary General of the UN, Kofi
Annan, said that the situation is worse than a civil war. From your point of view, is Iraq
worse off today, than before?
Grant Smith, IRmep: Yes. It is worse than before. If we consult the
studies from groups that have done survey research that are representative of the
population and are statistically sound, such as the Lancet
Study, they state that up to 600,000 have died in the violence. If we compare that
figure with other civil wars, the US, Spain, whatever, as a percentage of the population,
it is a horrific figure, and indicates that there is a civil war going on.
Ruben Barrera, Notimex, Mexico: Grant, one of the most cited
recommendations in the Baker study, one of the 79 recommendations, is looking for
political solutions, not just military solutions, to normalize the situation. In this
case, they talk about approaching Iran and Syria, from the standpoint that they have
better input and relations with the antagonist groups. The White House said
"no". It seems as though they are more interested in following what their
ideology dictates, rather than what reality could give them. In this case, if President
Bush maintains his doctrine of not talking to Iran or Syria, do you think the situation
would worsen rather than get better?
Grant Smith, IRmep: I think so. We've arrived at this point where the
administration is being told they must negotiate with Syria after years of a failed policy
of not talking. James Baker has a reputation as a diplomat, he was Secretary of State, he
and everybody is giving the US the recommendation to talk to Syria and Iran, that the
administration can talk to regimes it doesn't like, people with different ideologies. But
it is a matter of faith and doctrine, a closed ideology that the US can't talk to Iran or
Syria, because of the other matters on the table. The nuclear program in Iran, the
involvement of Syria in Lebanon and the front between Israel and the Palestinians. I think
we've arrived at a moment in which the power of the study, and its analytical support,
gave the Bush administration had a chance to change their policy. However, through
all possible media channels, the same people who supported the invasion, neoconservatives,
Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, have
reiterated that the US should not change the policy.
Ruben Barrera, Notimex, Mexico: How much does the present situation
change with this threat from Saudi Arabia, to help and support the Sunnis, if the US
withdraws and the violence against the Sunnis begins to increase against this minority?
Grant Smith, IRmep: Well, before saying anything, it warrants mention
that this kind of public confrontation is almost unknown in the relation between the Saudi
Kingdom and the US. Neither ever talk that way in public. But this breech, which possibly
caused the resignation of the Saudi Ambassador to the US this week, is a crisis, it
represents a real crisis, that they really don't want to see a Shiite cap over the Arab
world. But it is another reason, I think, for having a conference and more help from real
partners, not just junior partners of the coalition, but a real conference among the
groups in the region.
Adriana Amat, VOA: But Grant, I don't know if it is too "out
there" to think this, but doesn't the Saudi statement serve US interests, the
position of Saudi Arabia, saying "if you leave, we'll financially support the
Sunnis?" The US doesn't really want to withdraw troops...
Grant Smith, IRmep: The Sunnis are seen right now as a minority, some of
whom are fighting to regain what they lost under Saddam Hussein. Philip Zelikow, who is a
counselor in the US State Department to Condoleezza Rice, said, we should put to one side
the Sunnis and support the Kurds, Shiite, and the 80% solution will allow the
solidification of a power base, and goodbye Sunnis. That type of thinking is what is
causing the Saudi panic.
Ruben Barrera, Notimex, Mexico: And this plan you mention, this 80/20
could also bring about what they've talked about, which is to break up the country into
regions, the northern zone dominated by the Kurds, a zone of Shiite influence, and another
zone of Sunni influence?
Grant Smith, IRmep: Yes, that would be the logical conclusion, but nobody
wants a plan to divide the country. The lines that the British drew over the map are said
to be more viable in terms of economics and balance of power in the region. I don't think
there are any influential policymakers that want to do that at the moment. As we know,
however, the Kurds are already signing contracts to develop their petroleum resources,
they are raising their own flag, so in reality, there is already a very independent region
there in the north.
Adriana Amat, VOA: What do you think will be the announcement in the
presidential address in January from President Bush about the new Iraq strategy.
Grant Smith, VOA: I think they are going to return to their ideology,
which is basically not talking to Iran or Syria, they are going to raise troop levels
against public opinion, they are going to follow the guidance of their advisors such as
Henry Kissinger, made famous
again this week for his role in the coup in Chile, and not give "salted peanuts" to
the US population. "Peanuts" means taking out troops, or giving Americans
something that will make them want more. That's what is going to happen. They want to
"win". They are going to underscore winning, and raise troop levels.
Natalia Orozco, RCN Television, Colombia: One feels however, that
President Bush as tried, through some timid steps, to gain a little solidarity of American
public opinion. It has started to make a difference to him. Don't you think there is some
possibility that could leave this conflict recovering some small measure of presidential
Grant Smith, IRmep: Well, I think Bush is already thinking that history
will be written in the future, and he has readied himself for bad news, and bad public
opinion polls, until he leaves, and that doesn't really matter to him. He still thinks
that launching a democratic state in the center of the region is going to happen, that
he'll be remembered as the author of that, the force behind the creation of democracy in
the region. I don't see him looking for general political support, there are many who say
we must unite both sides to finish and win. But Americans are very divided. Only 12% of
the public want more troops in Iraq, 75% want them reduced. I don't think he'll arrive at
a "popular" decision when he wants to increase troops. He won't be able to
change minds of those who voted out Republicans in the November elections.
Ruben Barrera, Notimex, Mexico: What should we look for in the New
Congress when it initiates its legislative schedule on January 4? As we know the
Democrats have not hidden their rejection and repugnancy over the war, although many of
them voted for it, and some of them have announced the initiation of hearings to find out
what went wrong, others have threatened to withhold funding for military operations, with
control of the lower house totally in control of Democrats, and control of the Senate
somewhat up in the air, what can we expect from the new Congress.
Grant Smith, IRmep: Well, it was a gift to Democrats that they could just
say "we want a change of course in Iraq" and win. Implicit in that promise was
reducing troops. It is perfectly possible that they are going to now support a troop
increase, as you've said, the majority supported the invasion in the first place. If they
have a good sales plan, they can sell the idea that we have to win through troop
increases, and then vote against the very forces that put them in office. At the moment,
the potential change in balance of power in the Senate, the possible entry of a
Republican, is something the whole world is watching conscious of how it will affect Iraq.
If the Senate changes hands, it will be a lot easier to send in more troops.
Natalia Orozco, RCN Television, Colombia: You talk a lot about the public
opinion and what Americans want or don't want. What do Iraqis feel? What does Iraqi public
Grant Smith, IRmep: That's a great question. Zogby International has just
come out with an analysis, they do a lot of public opinion research in the region. 60% of
Iraqis are perfectly comfortable with the idea that killing US troops, for simply
occupying their country, is justified. The general feeling in Iraq is that they don't want
foreign troops on their territory. That is something that is very logical, that one can
understand. However, this simple analysis, that the US occupation is generating the
majority of the conflict, is not taken seriously by the administration. No one takes
public opinion polls of Iraqis seriously.
Adriana Amat, VOA: Should the function of US troops be exclusively for
Grant Smith, IRmep: Training. The US can train the troops forever. But we
are not, for example, establishing an Iraqi airforce. Iraq is a country you can't control
without an airforce. Neither can it be controlled without tank battalions, which they also
don't have. Iraqi armed forces cannot maintain their independence if they are totally
reliant on the US for arms, bullets and supplies. The Iraqi army is a force that for all
the training you give it, are pulled more strongly by factional centers like Shiite
militias, than the force of nationalism. Nationalism does not exist in sufficient
quantities to really have a professional armed service.
Adriana Amat, VOA: So they form a kind of cycle, with the US saying we
are not going to withdraw, until the Iraqi forces are ready and sufficiently trained.
Grant Smith, IRmep: Right, and that pushes the US more toward those in
the "80%" plan who say, "if only we could have the support of Ali al
Sistani, and Muqtader al Sadr, if we go with the Shiites, the training plan works."
Adriana Amat, VOA: Do you believe that theory that if the US withdraws,
Baghdad will become some kind of heaven or paradise for Al Qaeda to launch attacks against
Grant Smith, IRmep: Al Quaeda is a franchise. They show up wherever there
is demand. If there is a withdrawal, as have said the same Iraqis who don't want foreign
troops in Iraq, any who have entered from Syria or other places or formations of Al Qaeda
won't be welcome in Iraq, again, according to the rejection of foreign forces in Iraqi
Ruben Barrera, Notimex, Mexico: Does all of this shine light on a long US
presence in Iraq?
Grant Smith, IRmep: Of course. Let's speak like adults. The authors of
this war had three real objectives. Control the petroleum, project force over the region
from a new central military base, and third secure Israeli interests in the region. All of
this appears in the plan of the "Project for a New American Century" called
America's Defenses". The groups working to bury the Baker plan, the majority,
were also the authors of this plan.
I don't see the withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq at any time in the next thirty