As I'm not properly blogging till the new year, I haven't posted anything on the Baker-Hamilton proposals on Iraq. But supposing, with mighty implausibility, anyone is anxious to hear my views and is otherwise unoccupied on a December evening, you can hear me in a panel discussion on Middle East policy on BBC Four's The World programme at 8.00pm this evening. The other guests, at least, are some fairly distinguished people in journalism or academia.
And if you can't get enough of my political opinions, you can also watch me on the same channel later in the evening, on The Late Edition at 10.30pm, when I shall be arguing the case for Trident. Fortunately the case is so overwhelming that, I trust, I shall be hard pressed to obscure its logic and cogency.
UPDATE: This, roughly, is what I said in the debate over the Baker-Hamilton proposals. (The other participants in the discussion were Nadim Shehadi, an expert on Lebanon at Chatham House; Tom Fenton, now retired but for many years a prominent foreign correspondent for CBS; and Gil Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post.)
The Baker-Hamilton report makes dispiriting reading, and not only in its assessment of the state of Iraq. It's one thing to acknowledge and describe the failures of policy and culpable negligence in creating a pervasive sense of insecurity in one substantial part of Iraq (i.e. roughly a 35-mile radius from Baghdad). But it's another to resurrect with something approaching unseemly relish a foreign policy tradition - commonly known as realism - that stresses interests rather than values, and that is far from novel or historically successful. A measure of its failure is that at one time the policy extended to Saddam Hussein himself - notably in the Iran-Iraq War, when the Reagan administration intervened increasingly blatantly on Saddam's side after Iran captured much of the Fao Peninsula in 1986. Further fateful consequences of Baker's approach were acquiescence in Syria's aggrandisement in Lebanon with the 1989 Taif accord, and the failure to aid the uprising against Saddam Hussein by Kurds and Shi'ah in March 1991.
Tony Blair is in an odd position with regard to the report, in that formally he can claim to have already advocated bringing Syria and Iran into discussions of how to stablise Iraq, and pursuing actively a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet there is a huge difference in tone between him and Baker. (I referred here to Blair's 1999 Chicago speech, which explicitly referred to the urgency of countering Saddam, at a time when George W. Bush was a Governor of Texas of isolationist views. Blair is no poodle of the US administration.) What concerns me about Baker-Hamilton's approach to Syria and Iran is not the proposal of engagement with them so much as the absence of any preconditions. Minimal and immediate precondiitions of our treating these states as negotiating partners is (a) an abandonment by Iran of its nuclear deception and (b) an abandonment by Syria of its death-squad tactics, and its aggressive non-recognition of Lebanon.
We talked also of the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Iraq debate. There are good independent reasons - on grounds of equity and pragmatism - for desiring a negotiated two-state territorial accommodation between a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine, with boundaries approximating the pre-1967 armistice line. The realistic prospects for an imposed settlement of that type, as opposed to one that is directly negotiated between the parties, seem to me to be almost zero, and to have no relevance to the tasks facing us in Iraq. (If I thought an imposed settlement would create peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I would support it. But I don't.) The problem with Baker-Hamilton is that it seeks a political fix to an urgent security problem. Security problems don't have political solutions; to achieve a political solution, you need first to defeat militarily those who threaten it.