Last weekend, Henry Kissinger wrote a syndicated op-ed defending the President’s position in Iraq but qualified with a critical point:
The second and ultimately decisive route to overcoming the Iraqi crisis is through international diplomacy. Today the United States is bearing the major burden for regional security militarily, politically and economically.
Certainly arguments have been levied to challenge Kissinger’s strategic outlook, but far less disputed and patently evident is that the current administration has fallen short on this diplomatic effort upon which Kissinger predicates his support. In the absence of a robust diplomatic strategy coming from the White House, two Senators have stepped up to take on this role.
Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are the latest to have joined the ranks of other leading figures (including
Representative Lantos and Senator Hagel) in calling for a “diplomatic offensive” as outlined nine months ago in the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report. The Senators have filed an amendment to promote both a diplomatic and civilian surge, which have been neglected of late. The press release reads:
The amendment calls for the following steps, among others:
–The United States should take the lead in organizing a comprehensive diplomatic offensive, consisting of bilateral, regional, and international initiatives, to assist the Government of Iraq in achieving national reconciliation and meeting security, political, and economic benchmarks;
–The United States should bring together IraqÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neighbors through a regional conference or other mechanism to develop specific measures to stabilize Iraq and, in particular, end the outside flows of weapons, explosive materials, foreign fighters, and funding that contribute to the current sectarian warfare;
–The President and the Secretary of State should invest their personal time and energy in these diplomatic efforts to ensure that they receive the highest priority within the U.S. government and are viewed seriously in the region;
–The President should appoint a seasoned, high-level Presidential envoy to the region to supplement the efforts of Ambassador Crocker and focus on the establishment of a regional framework to help stabilize Iraq;
–The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations should seek the appointment of an international mediator in Iraq to engage political, religious, ethnic, and tribal leaders in Iraq to foster national reconciliation efforts;
–The United States should more directly press IraqÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neighbors to open fully operating embassies in Baghdad and establish inclusive diplomatic relations with Iraq so that the Iraqi government is viewed as legitimate throughout the region;
The amendment reflects a key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group which called upon the United States to Ã¢â‚¬Å“embark on a robust diplomatic effort to establish an international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Finally, the amendment also focuses attention on the need to implement a Ã¢â‚¬Å“civilian surgeÃ¢â‚¬Â to ensure that all components of the U.S. government are contributing to assist the Iraqi government to strengthen its capabilities to provide essential government services.
The Senators should be applauded for their efforts to revitalize this debate, but I at this point I doubt it will produce the stability the ISG suggested 10 months ago. I’m increasingly of the opinion that a diplomatic offensive is necessary, as Richard Haass put it — to rebalance our portfolio in the Middle East and diversify our overall position in the world — in other words, to hedge against the damage from Iraq.
I understand that politics is the slow boring of holes and welcome this effort, especially one co-sponsored by moderates in the Senate, but at some point these amendments calling for diplomacy need to develop real teeth and define with greater precision what we mean when we invoke the phrase “regional diplomacy”. As I’ve written before, so long as it remains amorphous and devoid of specific contents, even the John Boltons of the world can claim to be pursuing diplomacy.
Unlike the ISG, the Senators said not a word about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process which will be central to improving our position in the region. The major Middle East conference on the horizon in November is already imperiled due to the absence of specific contents or agendas.
Beyond calls for diplomacy, we need to begin talking about what a regional security architecture that includes Israel would look like and what security assurances are we willing to exchange for it.
And though the amendment calls for assistance to internal and external Iraqi refugees, it provides no specifics. We’ve done little to nothing to assist neighboring states and allies who are taking in the 2 million or more refugees spilling out of Iraq and taking on the onerous economic burden that accompanies the refugees. For instance, one of our key allies, Jordan, estimates that Iraqi refugees are costing the government $1 billion a year. In 2003, our economic assistance to Jordan jumped by almost $1 billion to cushion effects of the Iraq war but then dropped back down to normal levels since everything was going so swimmingly in that part of the world. If we were serious about assisting refugees and bolstering our critical allies in the region (the few we have left), we would need to start putting our money where our mouths are.
If we’re serious about a civilian surge, we need to define the contents of that as well. Does it involve more private contractors or does it mean activating our civilian wings of government to take on a larger share of our foreign policy portfolio? If it’s the latter, then it requires more than statements in the well of the Senate. It requires making some hard choices in budgets — as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report suggested last December — and moving more resources in the budget process from the military into the State Department and USAID (not simply shifting resources within departments as the amendment proposes).
I don’t mean to diminish the significance or work done for this amendment — this is more of an urging onwards in a Frost-ian “miles to go before I sleep” manner.
Senators Casey and Murkowski have drawn up an excellent outline of where we need to go on this, but unless others in the Administration and Congress begin to populate it with specific mechanisms and begin making some hard choices on resources, the outline will remain only that, and eventually swept into the dustbins of history.