Last week, Washington was all atwitter about the report of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. Its 79 recommendations included some constructive suggestions for new military tactics and for reorganizing the Iraqi government. But it concentrates more on what it calls the "external approach," a "reinvigorated diplomatic effort," a (with capitals in the original) "New Diplomatic Offensive."
This New Diplomatic Offensive would not only be directed at securing Iraq's border and reducing violence within them, but would also, astonishingly, be directed at producing a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. All this because, the report says, "all key issues in the Middle East -- the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism -- are inextricably linked.
Well, everything is linked to everything, I suppose, and you could even argue that everything is "inextricably" linked to everything. But it's hard to see why, to take one of several possible examples, Iraqi Sunnis would stop shooting Shiites and American troops if the United States successfully pressured Israel to give the Golan Heights to Syria. Nor is it clear that a removal of U.S. objections to Iran's nuclear program would persuade the Shiite militias to stop shooting.
Regime change has been achieved in Iraq by military action. The ISG would seek to reduce violence in Iraq by regime change in Iran and Syria -- regime change to be achieved by negotiation. But it gives no persuasive reason to believe this is possible.
In its narration of the facts, the report acknowledges that Iran has been promoting violence in Iraq and that Syria is at best negligent in preventing it. Later, it asserts that reducing violence in Iraq is in Iran's and Syria's interest. It would be nice if the leaders of Iran and Syria thought so, and I suppose it's theoretically possible that if we explain things to them in patient negotiations, they might be persuaded. But not, I think, much more possible than persuading pigs to fly.
As instruments of persuasion, the ISG report presents very little in the way of sticks and some very dangerous carrots. The only stick I saw was the suggestion that, if the United States withdraws, Saudi Arabia might intervene militarily in aid of the Sunnis. That doesn't seem likely to get the mullahs quivering. The report suggests that Libya's Muammar Qaddafi was persuaded to give up his weapons of mass destruction by patient negotiation. But he did so shortly after Saddam Hussein was pried out of his spider hole. It looks like the stick, not carrot, did the trick.