Conservative media on Iraq Study Group report: "[T]he problem with Iraq is the Iraqis"

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

In the wake of the Iraq Study Group's (ISG) recently released report on the future of U.S. policy in Iraq, some conservative media figures are blaming Iraqis for the situation in Iraq.

For example, during his "My Word" segment on the December 6 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson posed the question: "Whose fault is the trouble in Iraq? Bush's fault?" He answered his own question: "No, it's the Iraqis' fault." He complained that Iraqis spend all their time killing their neighbors while "we're trying to fight foreign invaders." Gibson said that "what we have is Shia killing Sunni and Sunni killing Shia and letting the whole darn country go straight to hell." Gibson concluded: "We can go to Kurdistan just like Charles Krauthammer suggested and protect the one group of Iraqis who have managed to live in peace, and we'll just watch the rest of it go up in flames. And the Iraqis will have no one to blame but themselves."

Similarly, Washington Post columnist George F. Will, in his December 7 column, claimed that "[t]he ISG's central conclusion ... is that the problem with Iraq is the Iraqis," adding that Iraq is "a semi-nation of peoples who are very difficult to help."

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly did lay some of the blame on the United States, but only because "[t]he USA misjudged the Iraqi people." During the "Talking Points Memo" segment of the December 6 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly claimed that this error was one of the main reasons "the Iraq campaign has failed." O'Reilly later said that "at this point, if the Iraqis want to kill each other, we should let them," echoing comments he had made the previous day on his nationally syndicated radio program.

In his December 1 Post column, five days before the ISG issued its report, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer defended the removal of Saddam Hussein as "essential" to the United States' interest. But Krauthammer then blamed the Iraqis for the current failures in Iraq:

We are trying to bring democracy to Iraq in particular because a pro-Western government enjoying legitimacy and popular support would have been the most enduring means of securing our interests there. Deposing Saddam & Sons was essential because they posed a permanent strategic threat to the region and to U.S. interests. But their successor -- the popularly elected Maliki government -- has failed.

The cause of that failure is rooted in an Iraqi political culture that makes it as yet impossible for enough of the political leadership to act with a sense of national consciousness.

[...]

Everyone now says that the key to stopping the fighting in Iraq is political -- again, as if this were another great discovery. It's been clear for at least a year that a military solution to the insurgency was out of our reach. The military price would have been prohibitive and the victory ephemeral without a political compromise. And that kind of compromise -- vesting the Sunnis with proportionate political and financial (i.e. oil) power -- is something the Shiites, at least those now comprising the Maliki government, seem incapable of doing.

Krauthammer then criticized the ISG's recommendation, which had already been reported, that the Bush administration should engage in diplomatic overtures toward Iran and Syria:

The key to progress is political change within Iraq. The newest fashion, however, is to go "regional," engaging Iran and Syria in order to have them pull our chestnuts out of the fire. This idea rests on the notion that both Iran and Syria have an interest in stability in Iraq.

Very hardheaded realist terms: interest, stability, regional powers. But stringing them together to suggest that Iran and Syria share our interests in stability is the height of fantasy. In fact, Iran and Syria have an overriding interest in chaos in Iraq -- which is precisely why they each have been abetting the insurgency and fanning civil war.

Perhaps in some long-term future they will want a stable Iraq as a tame client state of the Syria-Iran axis. For now they want chaos. What in God's name will a negotiation with them yield?

At best they might give us a few months to withdraw. But why do we need their help to do that? We can do our withdrawing very well without them. And in return for non-help in a non-solution that is essentially a surrender, Syria would demand to be given a free hand once again in Lebanon -- just as, when the United States needed help in Iraq before the Persian Gulf War, then-Secretary of State James Baker gave Lebanon over to Syria as a quid pro quo.

On the December 6 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, when asked by host Anderson Cooper about Krauthammer's criticism of the ISG's recommendation regarding Iran and Syria, former Secretary of State and Iraq Study Group co-chairman James A. Baker III said that Krauthammer was "wrong" in his views about diplomacy with Iran and Syria, and that they do "not want a chaotic Iraq."

From the December 6 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: Time now for "My Word." The Iraq Study Group has spoken. Now it's my turn. There was one really good idea in that report that jumped out at me -- that was the idea that we have to say to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, "Get it together or we're out of here." We should say to the Iraqis, "This is simple -- do or die. You do or you die. You're spending all your time killing your neighbors while we're trying to fight foreign invaders for you. You should be spending your time locating the Jordanians, Saudis, Iranians, Syrians, and Egyptians who have come to Iraq to be suicide bombers or IED bombers or snipers or other types of troublemakers." Instead, what we have is Shia killing Sunni and Sunni killing Shia and letting the whole darn country go straight to hell.

Whose fault is the trouble in Iraq? Bush's fault? No, it's the Iraqis' fault. They're the ones who are committing sectarian violence, not American troops. They're the ones who are using their freedom from Saddam [Hussein] to kill their neighbors instead of trying to get the power running or pump the oil or pave the streets or fix the schools or repair the hospitals.

If the Iraqi death toll is horrendous -- and no one can seriously claim it isn't -- you have to ask, "Who is doing this stuff?" Are there terrorists in Iraq causing trouble? Sure, but not this many. The death toll in Iraq is clearly the doing of Iraqis. And we ought to be saying to the Iraqi government, "Look, your fingerprints are all over this Shia death squad stuff. They're operating in Iraqi police uniforms, driving official Iraqi vehicles, both of which we gave you. And this was not our intention when we made it possible for you to have your own democratic government."

So Baker and [ISG co-chairman Lee] Hamilton got one thing absolutely certain. There is an absolute need to say to the Iraqis, "Keep it up, pal, and you can count on one thing -- we're out of here." We can go to Kurdistan just like Charles Krauthammer suggested and protect the one group of Iraqis who have managed to live in peace, and we'll just watch the rest of it go up in flames. And the Iraqis will have no one to blame but themselves.

That's "My Word."

From the December 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: There are two primary reasons the Iraq campaign has failed. The USA misjudged the Iraqi people. And Iran has undermined all attempts at securing liberty by arming and inciting the Shia militias.

Iran is doing this in order to dominate Iraq when the USA leaves. And once that happens, the rest of the Gulf will become destabilized, as will your lights and gas tank if Iran gets control of the region. What a mess.

The Iraq study group did a good job. The folks on it are smart and honest. And the president would be wise to listen. But at this point, if the Iraqis want to kill each other, we should let them. Our main goal should be preventing Iran from securing a foothold in Iraq and getting our troops into more secure positions.

By the way, the name of the Iraq Study Group should really be the Iran Study Group. And that's the "Memo."

From the December 6 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Times [sic] wrote: "To suggest Iran and Syria share our interest in stability is the height of fantasy. In fact, Iran and Syria have an overriding interest in chaos in Iraq, which is precisely why they each have been abetting the insurgency and fanning civil war." You -- can you overcome that?

BAKER: Well, he's wrong. Occasionally, columnists are wrong. He also wrote that when I was secretary of state, I made a deal with the Syrians to give them free rein in Lebanon, so they would come to the Madrid peace conference, change 25 years of policy, and sit down for the first time face to face with Israel.

They changed 25 years of policy. It took me 15 trips to Damascus to make it happen. But that's what he wrote. He's just as wrong on that as he is on what you're quoting.

COOPER: So you don't think Iran has a vested interest in -- in aiding and abetting the insurgents and promoting chaos?

BAKER: Iran would love to have us tied down there, muddling down, and, you know, just bogged down there. But they do not want a chaotic Iraq. We -- we know that. They say that. And they -- they obviously shouldn't want a chaotic Iraq.

HAMILTON: Iran -- Iran has its own population problems.

BAKER: You're darn right.

HAMILTON: And they've got a --

BAKER: And they'll be the first ones hit with refugees.

HAMILTON: That's right. If they've got a lot of refugees flowing into Iran today, you seriously threaten the stability of Iran. So, they've got a lot of interest here.

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