Later this week, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group are going to deliver a draft of their report to the White House. We can safely assume that it will be promptly leaked, and the media will rush to adopt it as if it were the latest delivered on marble plaques from atop Mount Sinai. The Pentagon is working on its own recommendations, which may be lost in the coming media feeding frenzy over the Baker report. And like every such plan, the study commission recommendations won't survive the first contact with the enemy (or, in these times, our "friends"). It is up to the president to do that which he has not yet done: lead like a war president and use all the power of the United States -- diplomatic, economic and military -- to establish the agenda for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. The president shouldn't rush or allow himself to be stampeded by a media and the Democrats into taking anyone's recommendations at face value.
If the president allows himself to be entrapped by the Baker commission, as is sadly most likely, the agenda for progress in the Middle East will be set by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar Assad, Moqtada al-Sadr and Hassan Nasrallah. Ahmadinejad, anticipating the Baker report, has already put a price on Iran's "cooperation" on Iraq. He said last week, "The Iranian nation is ready to help you to get out of the quagmire -- on condition that you resume behaving in a just manner and avoid bullying and invading....Then, nations of the region, headed by the Iranian nation, will be ready to show you the path of salvation....It is the time for the leaders of the U.S. and U.K to listen. You have reached a dead end in our region as well as in the world." The Kissingerian "realists" will label this bluff and bluster and say, as they said in 1973, that we can negotiate a deal for "peace with honor." It would be better for us to take the enemy at his word, and his deed.
Iran and Syria -- believing the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group will recommend a retreat from Iraq -- are pushing violently for outright control of Lebanon by the Hizballah terrorists. The assassination of moderate Lebanese Christian leader Pierre Gemayel occurred within days of Hizballah leader Nasrallah's demand for a veto over Lebanese government action. Neither would have occurred without Syrian and Iranian support. (One Hizballah "parliamentarian" said on Fox News a few nights ago that his "party" wouldn't deny its connections to Syria and Iran.) Again, take the enemy at his word. Lebanon cannot pretend to democracy while it is in thrall to the terrorists of Hizballah, and Hizballah's service as the proxy for Syria and Iran cannot be ignored. In Iraq, as in Lebanon, wars cannot be won by fighting proxies.
In Iraq, Sunni-Shia violence is taking record numbers of lives while the Maliki government remains unable and unwilling to do anything to secure its people from it. (The insurgency has become the only economically viable industry in Iraq, gaining enough from oil hijacking, kidnapping ransoms and protection money extracted from Iraqi government officials to sustain itself. What the insurgents get from Syria and Iran enables them to expand their control over parts of Iraq.) President Bush's meeting with Maliki this week is itself threatened by Moqtada al-Sadr -- Iran's proxy in Iraq -- who said his participation in the Maliki government would end if Maliki meets with Bush.
If the meeting happens, the president cannot allow Maliki's need to mollify Sadr to control the agenda. Maliki needs to receive a clear, harsh message that America has lost confidence in his ability to govern. We have respected Iraq's nascent "democracy" too much. The truism that only Iraqis can make Iraq function is true, but only in the sense that we cannot allow them to continue to decline that responsibility. Maliki and the other members of his government need to be made to understand that unless they take immediate action to fight the militias and insurgents America will cease military action in those areas. The Iraqis can best begin, as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter said yesterday, with moving trained Iraqi forces into the fight around Baghdad in great numbers. If our insistence on action brings about the fall of the Maliki government, so be it. This is a key step toward resetting the agenda in Iraq. The president has to do it, or Syria and Iran will do it for him. Whatever Baker-Hamilton recommend, the president has to refuse any negotiations with those terrorist nations unless our conditions are met. And he has to back a demand for satisfaction of those conditions with diplomacy and force.
AS I WROTE LAST WEEK, the idea that we can get Syria and Iran to negotiate seriously on peace in Iraq -- and nothing else -- is laughable because their goal in Iraq is diametrically opposed to ours. Their agenda is to protect themselves from further American intervention in their terrorist operations and hegemonic ambitions. Syria's domination of Lebanon is assured as long as it can freely arm, fund and control Hizballah. Israel's government, which should be taking responsibility for ridding Lebanon of Hizballah and Syrian influence, is incapable of doing so. We have let Israel flail and falter when we should have been demanding that the Olmert government act decisively against both halves of its closest enemy. What was possible for Olmert to do last summer is now beyond him. It is almost impossible to expect Mr. Bush to do what Olmert cannot. But he must.
Ahmadinejad is confident that America poses no threat to his regime in the next six to eight years, in which he can complete nuclear weapons development. His taunts, eagerly offering to hold our coat while we clean out our Middle Eastern offices, demonstrate a confidence that won't be easy to rattle. But President Bush must.
Lame-duckism can be both a political reality and a state of mind. Mr. Bush needs to recognize that if we cut and run from Iraq, the blame will be his. If the Iranian mullahs remain free to develop and deploy nuclear weapons while fomenting terrorism around the world, it will be he that history labels responsible. The Democrats have to retain the faÃ§ade of moderation in order to win the White House in 2008. If the president acts boldly and decisively to stop Iran and Syria, even at the cost of "democracy" in Iraq, and especially if he acts contrary to whatever the Fabulous Baker Boys recommend, he can reset the agenda and prevent disaster in the Middle East. In so doing he can keep the White House out of the hands of the cut and run party in 2008.
Mrs. Thatcher isn't on hand to tell President Bush that this is no time to go wobbly, but there are other Brits whose words may prove to be of equal value. Speaking of Iran, British Conservative Shadow Defence Minister Dr. Liam Fox told me in a London interview that, "If we give a signal at every single juncture that one by one we'll allow states through the difficult stage of getting into the nuclear club but they all enjoy certain privileges once they've got there, we might as well have an open-door policy. At some point, you have to make a stand to give credibility to the arguments that you make. If we lose in any of the areas in which we're now deployed or in any of the cases we're now making, we will only give greater credence to those of our enemies who portray us as being morally weak and lacking the fiber to defend our own values and interests."
Fox said, "It is not in Britain's national interest to see Iran brought into the negotiation on the basis of any softening over Iran's nuclear program. We have already seen what a failure of diplomacy can do in relation to North Korea and suggest that we don't go down the same route again. Therefore I think it's nonsensical to rule out any measures that would be necessary to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. I would say that it would not be sensible for any poker player to in any way reveal their hand, and the Iranians have, over time, shown that they are extremely good poker players." Ahmadinejad has called and raised. Your bet, Mr. President.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, 2006).