...warned against a precipitous troop withdrawal from Iraq, and was open-minded regarding a temporary surge of modest scale in Greater Baghdad. President George W. Bush is doing that. The report called for a reinvigoration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as part of a regional diplomatic blitz. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been doing that. The report called for a reconstruction czar for Iraq, as part of a process of infusing the country with more economic aid. President Bush indicated he will do that. The report sought to give the President a swift kick in the rear end—toward a more dynamic policy on Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton report, together with the November election results, have accomplished that...
Army Lt. Gen. David Petreaus told me months ago that because the Army promotes people for commanding American and not foreign troops, sometimes the least talented people get assigned to train Iraqi forces: therefore, the policy needed to be reversed.
Niall Ferguson, also writing at the Atlantic, A War to Start All Wars, says that the middle east looks like Europe, circa WWI and he concludes with this:
Fallon could eventually be proven right on China. Whatever the case, it may not necessarily say anything meaningful about his stomach for a confrontation with Iran. Like a lot of people, he may put China in a completely different category from Iran. One thing is clear: he will be extremely cautious over the need for military action against Teheran. So the question becomes, can Gates and the man he has chosen to lead his war fighting command in the Greater Middle East frighten the Iranians sufficiently to make negotiations meaningful? For the history of naval pressure shows that it must communicate the willingness to fight if it is to have the desired impact on an adversary. I worry that we do not sufficiently grasp the fact that the Iranians may not be reading from the same set of instructions as us, on the real-life political-diplomatic board game we are about to embark on. What if the Iranians watch our beefed-up naval and air presence, combined with increasing economic pressure on them, and say, so what? That's where the partial and tenuous overlap between what the Baker-Hamilton report advised we should do, and what neoconservatives say we might do under better circumstances, evaporates. That's where it may come down to a confrontation between Vice President Dick Cheney and the Gates-Fallon team at the Pentagon, which is essentially the Baker-Hamilton team.
Only then will we know if Bush has truly repudiated the Iraq Study Group. For the moment, he has co-opted enough of its recommendations for those in Congress who praised the report, and now denounce the President's surge, to be labeled hypocrites. As I said, a report like that of the Iraq Study Group is never intended to be liked; or openly implemented. It is meant to subtly influence policy. That it has surely done, so far.
What will the United States do if Iraq’s neighbors fail to contain the ethnic conflict that is now consuming Iraq? The simple answer would be to leave the people to kill and displace one another until ethnic homogeneity has been established in the various states. That has effectively been American policy in central Africa. The trouble, of course, is that Iraq matters more than Rwanda, economically and strategically. Does anyone seriously believe that a regional conflagration would leave Israel and Saudi Arabia—America’s most important allies in the Middle East—unscathed?
Ask a different question. Did anyone seriously believe that a war in Central and Eastern Europe in 1939 would leave Britain and France unaffected? The really sobering lesson of the twentieth century is that some civil wars can grow into more than just regional wars. If the stakes are high enough, they have the potential to become world wars too.
General Petraeous also told Congress, "The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. ... But hard is not hopeless."