Bush#039;s last hand: the White House reacts to the Baker Commission

As reports surfaced indicating that Syria and Iran have been training, funding and transporting insurgents, James Baker and Lee Hamilton were finalizing the Iraq Study Group’s report on the course in Iraq.,Like any good diplomatic road-trip, President Bush’s recent swing through the Middle East was not without its bumps of irony and scandal.

As reports surfaced indicating that Syria and Iran have been training, funding and transporting insurgents, James Baker and Lee Hamilton were finalizing the Iraq Study Group’s report on the course in Iraq.

The outlook is both obvious and upsetting.

The report recommends a gradual reduction of forces, to be completed in early 2008.

On the diplomatic front, the Commission suggests forming an “international consensus for stability,” which includes talking with Iran and Syria, long believed to be supporting terrorism in the war-torn nation.

How much the president will follow this advice to create a self-sustaining Iraq to become an “ally in the war against the terrorists” remains to be seen.

While most Americans look at Baker’s Commission and sigh the relieved sigh of a nation scorned by deception, the real question is one that has dogged the president since the defining moment of his political career: what took so long?

Bush, it seems, is finally beginning to see the reality on the ground. One day before the president was scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, The Times published a damning White House memo that expressed doubt about Maliki’s ability to govern the Iraqi people effectively and quell the sectarian violence.

While democratic elections in Iraq produced a staggering turnout of 12 million voters, what has happened since is anything but democratic. The memo also suggests that perhaps Maliki’s willingness to communicate with extremist groups like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army is not just offensive to the White House, but a fatal career mistake on Maliki’s part.

The violence and confusion challenging Maliki is not the result of a failed Prime Minister, but a failed occupying force.

While Republicans have lobbed grenades at Democrats in Washington for party infighting, it is the same type of internal strife at the Bush White House that has resulted in strategic non-decisions and an elongated occupation that has now stretched longer than World War II. The Maliki memo is just one more drop of proof.

The president’s added unwillingness to legitimize any claims by extremist groups like Sadr’s is one part of the Bush doctrine that James Baker unfortunately will never change.

Although violent, leaders like Sadr are the firebrand personalities to which Iraqis have been trained to respond due to decades of rule under Saddam. And it is undeniable that the tens of thousands of fighters, if legitimately trained, could amount to the domestic security force for which the Iraq Study Group calls.

Although Mahdi-linked bombings killed nearly 200 people in Baghdad’s single bloodiest attack in recent months, the doses of freedom President Bush has meted out have whet the appetite of sectarian groups that had been disenfranchised for decades under Saddam’s dictatorship.

Violence is the language of oppression. All this has led to one glaring truth: Iraq will not soon be secular or free.

The Baker Commission’s suggestion that the U.S. talk to Syria and Iran must be taken seriously by Washington.

While we struggle for ideas on how to end Tehran’s vendetta-like pursuit of uranium enrichment, it is clear that if the president does not back down from his radical cowboy diplomacy, the Iran-supported sectarian fighting in Iraq will escalate.

Perhaps the scariest of all possibilities is that Iraq is a success already, but not in any traditional sense. The prospect of a fast pull-out, although rejected by the president, is the most powerful bargaining chip the U.S. still possesses. Bush would be wise to cash in his chips and meet Tehran and Damascus halfway, and for the first time since the invasion of Afghanistan, pursue those who are actually killing Americans.