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What's New In The Baker-hamilton Report?

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by Richard Stern
The long-awaited Baker-Hamilton report is out, all 160 pages of it. It was introduced by a news conference presided over by James Baker with his familiar mix of witty condescension ("we has-beens") and aristo impatience (telling a reporter he could answer his question but "as it's answered in the Report it would be a waste of time"). Baker's co-chair, Lee Hamilton, the icon of gravitas, came close to the brink of pompous, if not senile garrulity. Seven other committee members were there as well, some like Alan Simpson, so enamoured of his own cleverness and wit you wondered how he could have ever given up the senatorial stage. Of the three others who spoke at the conference, only William Perry was usefully informative and modest.

As for the Report itself, it begins with a description of the present situation of U.S.-occupied Iraq which contains nothing of novelty to TV news watchers let alone readers of The New Republic. But the report does offer much in the way of more or less detailed recommendations, starting perhaps with the "milestones" suggested by Prime Minister Al-Maliki: so, by the end of 2006 or early 2007, the approval of the Provincial Election, Petroleum, de-Baathification Laws and the Central Bank of Iraq's raising interest rates to 20 percent and appreciating the dinar 10 percent.

The Committee's recommendations deal with training the army (embedding well-trained and exceptionally able American officers in Iraqi units), the police (using the FBI), calling for a regional congress and otherwise engaging Iraq's neighbors, detailing problems in oil production and suggesting technical and monetary assistance, working on such trouble spots as Kirkuk, calling for the appointment of American supervisors of the suggested reforms, arguing against such suggestions as dividing the country into three more or less independent units, large military increases and, in short, dealing more or less sensibly, if familiarly, with most or all of the problems discussed ad nauseam in every newspaper, magazine, cable news show and a thousand blogs.

Appendices offer maps, lists of the many people interviewed, presidents and prime ministers on down to professors and one star generals, and biographies of the committee members in which one learns that Hamilton is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and the names of his five grandchildren (but not the names of anyone else's grandchildren or even if Justice O'Connor is or was married) and that Eagleburger's three sons are all named (à la George Foreman) Lawrence. The one familiarity in this section is referring to Clever Simpson as "Al."

In short, a more or less classic government report, one which the administration could largely follow without being derailed from its "course." Oh yes, it is advised to fuse its "supplemental" fund requests with the rest of its budgetary needs, but outside of the acknowledgement that things are not going well over there, there is little in the way of criticism. Oh yes, there is a slap at poor old Rumsfeld: It advises the new secretary of defense to make sure that his relations with the generals around him are cordial.

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