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Sacrifice to the Volcano
Right now, most Americans are ready to sign on to just about anything as long as it is labeled "exit from Iraq." To listen to the current debate about the war and the deepening despair over the never-ending toll of blood and treasure that it has cost us, the notion of an American flight from the conflict is no longer unthinkable.
But along the way to defeat in Iraq, one of the questions that has yet to be answered is whether or not Americans are prepared to practice an ancient form of human sacrifice in order to expatiate their guilt and shame over this turn of events. In the aftermath of the release of the report of the Iraq Study Group, it remains to be seen whether the United States will make the State of Israel the sacrifice to the volcano that is Iraq.
That's the main results from the report of the Iraq Study Group, a gathering of retired politicians assembled by Congress who are masquerading as America's "wise men" these days.
In the current atmosphere in Washington -- which finds most Republicans desperate to find a way out of the quagmire and Democrats eager to exploit the issue -- it isn't hard to understand why the bipartisan group of retired politicians led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former House Rep. Lee Hamilton have become the flavor of the month.
As such, the report must be taken seriously as a genuine effort to turn back the clock in American foreign policy. As much as the ISG's brief was to create a way out of Iraq, it seems to be just as interested in recreating a world in which American "realists" will combine with friendly Muslim authoritarians to foster stability.
Perhaps that looks good when compared to the chaos in Iraq, but it's also a view that is extremely short on realism.
Providing a Scapegoat
Does anyone, even the report's authors, really believe the extremists running Iran or the dictator of Syria can be bribed into helping the United States prevail?
Read it closely, and you begin to wonder if the report isn't so much a policy recommendation that expects to be carried out as it is the opening blast of the post-Iraq war debate on American foreign policy. It is a critique not merely of the clear failure of American tactics on the ground in Iraq, but to the worldview of the Bush administration about enemy nations like Iran and Syria -- and the Palestinian terror groups they back.
In particular, the points in the report that speak to the Arab-Israeli conflict are noteworthy because they impose upon the State of Israel a crucial role in the creation of the authors' vision of a post-Iraq-war world.
According to Baker-Hamilton, the conflict between Israel and the Arab/Muslim world is "inextricably linked" to the war in Iraq.
Why? No reason is given. The statement is merely left to stand on its own as if it had no need of proof. It rests on the assumption -- long promulgated by "realists" like those two warhorses -- that only after the United States forces Israel to make more and more concessions to appease its Arab foes will Arab and Muslim opposition to America cease.
Do Baker and Hamilton really think that a new peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, even one bought with even more concessions from the Jewish state would cause Iraqi insurgents to lay down their arms?
Would the mullahs of Iran, whose theological doctrines mandate Israel's destruction, or the dictator of Syria, who knows that maintaining the conflict with Israel is key to his survival, help achieve such a result?
But that doesn't stop the ISG from putting forward the notion that only by a renewed U.S. commitment to "engagement" in the peace process (in the form of forcing an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and recognition of a Hamas-Fatah Palestinian coalition) will Iran and Syria cease their meddling in Iraq, and assist America in a graceful exit from the war.
This ignores the fact that the last 13 years of fruitless diplomacy have been predicated on this conception. The Syrians have rejected every previous chance for peace, and the Palestinian leadership has shown that it would rather doom their people to perpetual war and poverty rather than to live in peace with Israel.
A New Myth
But for those like Baker, who still see Israel as an unnecessary impediment to American deal-making, such details don't matter. By portentously stating that "the United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the conflict," the ISG has called into question not merely Iraq policy, but the administration's unwillingness to bully Israel into concessions despite the absence of a peace partner.
In doing so, the report implicitly places on the agenda the myth that U.S. support for Israel will be a crucial factor in thwarting American success in Iraq. Even though such a peace is rendered impossible for the foreseeable future by Arab/Muslim intransigence and hatred against Jews and Israel, the astounding implication is that possible defeat in Iraq can ultimately be placed at the feet of the Jewish state and its American supporters. The report will, if it goes unrefuted, be a standing challenge, not to "staying the course" on Iraq, but to staying the course on the alliance with Israel.
Does the Bush presidency have the political capital to sink this initiative?
We don't know. Trapped between the political costs of an unpopular war and the unfathomable possibility of defeat, the administration may find itself backing away from Israel in the next two years. Lack of confidence in the Ehud Olmert government on the part of Bush may also factor into this decision (a point that the ISG report seemed to hit on when it noted the exhaustion of the Israeli body politic).
Ironically, one possible obstacle to appeasement can come from the source of most of the criticism on Iraq: the Democrats.
Having campaigned as faithful friends of Israel, the Democratic leadership of the new House and Senate has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that they -- and not the Republicans -- are the true guardians of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
The temptation to jump on the Baker-Hamilton bandwagon may be irresistible to some Democrats. But by rejecting the ISG report and placing the administration on notice that they oppose any effort to try to purchase Iranian and Syrian favor with Israeli security, Democrats can not only defend a faithful ally, but gain the favor of the vast majority of Americans who count themselves as friends of Israel.
As much as both Democrats and Republicans crave a way out of Iraq, sacrificing Israel will buy us neither peace nor honor. Whatever the outcome of the war, both parties must reject Baker and Hamilton's effort to make the Jews the scapegoat for Iraq.