Saturday, December 09, 2006

The ISG and the USIP: who are these people and why are they saying all these things?

In her latest vlog, the inimitable Pamela of Atlas Shrugs asks the following pertinent question about ISG head James Baker, "Who died and made him king?"

Well, I think I can offer a stab at an answer. Who died? The Republican Party in the 2006 election (I know, I know, they didn't die. But they did receive a blow). Who made Baker king? The MSM.

My guess is that had the Republicans won the 2006 elections, we wouldn't have heard much about the ISG recommendations, which have been hyped to the nth degree by the media only since those elections.

The ISG was appointed back in March. Here is its history. It was formed at the suggestion of Congressman Frank Wolf as a bipartisan panel to look at the situation in Iraq with fresh eyes. The panel was affiliated with an entity called the United States Institute of Peace:

The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress. Its mission is to help:

* Prevent and resolve violent international conflicts
* Promote post-conflict stability and democratic transformations
* Increase peacebuilding capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide

In other words, from the start, the ISG was under the aegis of a group dedicated to finding diplomatic solutions rather than to make military suggestions (except, perhaps, in the area of using armed forces as peacekeepers). The USIP was a "facilitating organization" to the Group, meaning:

As facilitator, USIP maintains an in-house Iraq expert committee that supports the ISG principals in their work. USIP has assisted the group and its members by convening expert working groups, writing briefing papers, providing analysis and coordinating meetings of the ISG.

The two heads of the ISG, Baker and Hamilton, were chosen by:

mutual agreement among the Congressional organizers, USIP, and the other supporting organizations. After being named co-chairs, Baker and Hamilton selected the remaining group members in consultation with USIP and the other supporting organizations.

So it was Congress and the USIP who appointed the heads of the ISG, who then appointed everyone else, with the USIP heavily involved. And once you read the goals of the USIP, it becomes crystal clear why the rather deranged suggestion to talk to Iran and Syria, and to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli situation through revival of the DOA "peace process" there, are part and parcel of the ISG recommendations.

I'm sure the USIP is composed of a bunch of nice people dedicated to the pursuit of peace, a laudable cause. And I would imagine that somewhere, somehow, in the right circumstances, they do some fine work--perhaps, for example, in rebuilding places where the fighting parties are exhausted and wanting reconciliation (some of the nations of Africa, for example). Here are more of the USIP's activities:

* Providing on-the-ground operational support in zones of conflict, most recently in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, Liberia, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, and Sudan. Specific work performed by Institute staff and grantees includes:
o Building leadership capacity through training and workshops
o Facilitating dialogue among parties in conflict
o Identifying and disseminating best practices in conflict management
o Sponsoring leadership summits and strategic conferences
o Promoting the rule of law
o Developing educational and teacher training materials
o Helping build civil society institutions
o Sponsoring a wide range of countrywide working groups (e.g., Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Korea, Sudan)
o Educating the public through informative events, documentary films, radio programs, and an array of other outreach activities

Despite the heavy hand of the USIP and their bias for the talking cure (and I'm not referring to psychotherapy), the ISG still might have been a more worthwhile and balanced endeavor had its members consisted of people with a great deal of expertise on the subject of Iraq, foreign affairs, and military matters.

Who are the members of the ISG? Most articles focus on Baker and Hamilton, the heads, but there are ten members. There are five Democrats and five Republicans, no surprise, since the panel was meant to be bipartisan. Let's take a brief look:

(1) James A. Baker, age 76, Republican, Secretary of State under the first Bush

(2) Lee Hamilton, age 75, Democrat, vice-chair of 9/11 Commission, ex-Representative from Indiana with experience on foreign affairs and intelligence committees

(3) Lawrence Eagleburger, age 76, Republican, Secretary of State under the first Bush

(4) Vernon Jordan, age 71, Democrat, businessman, civil rights lawyer and advisor/buddy to Clinton

(5) Edwin Meese III, age 75, Republican, Attorney General under Reagan (controversial involvement in Iran-Contra)

(6) Sandra Day O'Connor, age 76, Republican, lawyer and Supreme Court Justice

(7) Leon Panetta, age 68, Democrat, Congressman (budget, civil rights, health, and environmental issues), Clinton's Chief of Staff

(8) William Perry, age 79, Democrat, Secretary of Defense under Clinton

(9) Chuck Robb, age 67, Democrat, former Marine, ex-governor of Virginia, Senator, Chair of Iraq Intelligence Commission (only member of ISG to venture outside "green zone" in trip to Iraq)

(10) Allen K. Simpson, age 75, Republican, Senator, chair of Veterans' Affairs Committee

One thing that leaps out--and which others have commented on--is that as a whole it's a rather geriatric bunch. This certainly doesn't invalidate the opinions of the members, but it leads us to a presumption that they're not exactly cutting edge. Foreign affairs are represented, in the sense of the State Department (to be extremely specific, the State Department under the first President Bush): Baker and Eagleburger were both Secretary of State under Bush I. Hamilton has relevant Congressional experience; Perry is the only person with a Defense background (under Clinton, under whom he oversaw the post-Cold War reduction of the armed forces), and Robb has both military and intelligence experience.

But fully five of the Group's members (that's half) have little or in most cases no experience at all--not just of Iraq or military matters, but of foreign affairs in general. To me, this is astounding.

Baker and Hamilton picked the members of the group. I don't know whether these were their first picks or not, or how much oversight there was, and if so, by whom. At the time the selection was made, I doubt they realized what scrutiny the results would come under, due to the election.

But these picks are beyond my understanding. If you follow the links and read the biographies, you'll see that Jordan, O'Connor, Meese, Panetta, and probably Simpson (who seems to have a bit of experience with veteran affairs, which is probably not all that relevant to policy in Iraq) have no experience whatsoever in the relevant fields. None. Period.

This is truly hard to fathom. I understand bipartisanship. I understand that these aren't stupid people; they are all intelligent and accomplished, in their own ways. But so are many of us, and we're not on the ISG.

Surely these are not the most qualified people for this particular task. Surely they are not even close. Surely many of them are not qualified at all. And surely the influence of the USIP skewed the results, especially when dealing with minds that may have been somewhat of a tabula rasa on the topic.

[ADDENDUM: Shrinkwrapped diagnoses the ISG.]

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