This is from a discussion between former Secretary of State James Baker and Anderson Cooper on Wednesday evening, 6 December 2006 on Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees:
COOPER: And is it possible that getting the U.S. troops out will actually lessen that violence, that it will at least take away the motivation of nationalist insurgents?
BAKER: Many people have argued that to us. Many people in Iraq made that case.
COOPER: Do you buy it?
BAKER: Yes, I think there is some validity to it, absolutely. Then we are no longer seen to be the occupiers. We’re still going to have a very robust — forced presence in Iraq and in the region for quite a number of years after this thing sorts itself out whichever way it sorts itself out. We have to do that because we cannot — we have vital national interests in that region.
We have the problem of al Qaeda. We cannot leave the country to be a Taliban-like base for al Qaeda. So we’re going to have a — we’re going to maintain even after we do what we said here, there’s still going to be a lot of force protection combat capability, a lot of training, equipping and supporting, and there will be rapid reaction teams and special ops forces to chase al Qaeda.
Let’s give this a reality test — or a partial one.
None of the top tier strategists I met from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, or Egypt — none of them — thought that America could achieve its interests in Iraq with a smaller force.
While strategic analysts differed tremendously on what America should do — some advocating a regathering of confidence and forces in a coalition to bump up stewardship of and security in Iraq while others advocated total withdrawal — none saw a draw-down to a smaller presence without combat brigades as solving any fundamental problems of the state. In fact, they argue that if “God wills” the talibanization or al Qaeda-ization of Iraq or deems that it should become a vassal state of Iran — a smaller presence of US forces in Iraq will not prevent that outcome.
They suggest that either a complete withdrawal or a massive surge in presence are the only two options that might affect Iraq’s course. A withdrawal could lead, in the view of some of these strategists, to circumstances that actually “undercut” Shia domination and actually revive Sunni participation in the equation inside Iraq.
Alternatively, some suggest that America needs to de-flag and encourage a substantial increase in troop presence — perhaps with the French in the lead with Arab and other support in the ranks — for a massive new commitment to re-configuring the political order in Iraq and “hiring” all of the Iraqi military forces that were disbanded.
I’m not commenting now on how realistic these prescriptions are. But I think it is important to realize that Gulf region Arab strategists uniformly — in my fairly extensive survey of them this week in Dubai — think that a more modest base presence of Americans in Iraq in four or five bases actually continues to aggravate a domestic Iraqi insurgency while having fewer resources to solve the security problem.
Withdraw completely — or increase the troop presence under international colors two or three-fold. This is what Arab strategists recommend.
Probably won’t happen — but seems to me that these thinkers are more schooled in realpolitik and the dimensions of hard core realism than the erstwhile bipartisan team trying to solve George W. Bush’s (and America’s) Iraq problem.
— Steve Clemons
Ed Note: Special thanks to Marcia J for sending this clip.