The Iraq Study Joke and 2008
by Matt Stoller, Sun Dec 10, 2006 at 08:43:45 AM EST
So I was watching Meet the Press this morning and Lee Hamilton and James Baker from the recently elected Iraq Study Group were on talking about their work. It was really quite stunning. First of all, it was clear that neither wants to touch the central problem of our relationship with Iraq, which is that we have a President who won't listen to anyone and so anything said by experts will necessarily be irrelevant. Russert asked them how to reconcile the fact that Bush says he won't talk to Iran until Iran promises not to enrich uranium, and how that can be reconciled with the report. Baker and Hamilton's response was that the nuclear issue with Iran is set aside and not covered by the report. Wahh? So a central tenet of their recommendations - that we should be talking to regional powers - is not actually covered by their report because it might make Bush uncomfortable?
Unfortunately, the same shoddy pathetic work is evident throughout the study. Many thinkers in the foreign policy elite are whispering that ethnic cleansing and genocide are in the cards no matter what we do, and Arab strategists are quite discouraged at the conclusions of the report.
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.
And then there's the defense communities, which by and large are deeply unhappy. No one who knows anything about that region of the world and is willing to consider the realities of domestic American politics thinks this report adds anything useful to the debate. Democratic leaders like Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton continue to hide behind the skirt of James Baker, who is of course not on our side. The only people I've seen in political office who have shown leadership are Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, and Russ Feingold. That's it.
What was stunning about this morning's Meet the Press is how arrogant Lee Hamilton was in one of his comments in which he expressed shocking disdain for elections and the American people. The last thing we should do, he said, is to consider making foreign policy decisions based on domestic American politics. The fetishization of bipartisan elites, and the shoddy and dishonorable work these elites put out on a consistent basis, is a terrifying prospect for our ability to self-govern. The Iraq War largely happened because the foreign policy establishment and the political elites were too scared and arrogant to consider that a robust public debate about a sound course of action could serve us well. In fact they pursued a largely secretive agenda in which think tank and Op-Ed credentials largely signified that one could operate safely as a courtier and wouldn't buck a pro-war consensus. It was simply culturally correct to go to war and arrogate immense power to George Bush.
The disconnect between these elites and popular sentiment has been vast since 1998, and I'm not sure how much it's closed. Certainly we're seeing ferociously bitter hatred towards blogs and left-wing pundits on the part of these courtiers. But there are advocates now, like Murtha and Pelosi, people who understand that we feel terribly betrayed by the elites who keep telling us that we have no place in public discourse, and that they are so obviously correct even when they are obviously wrong by every standard imaginable.
I wish I had an alternative to the Iraq Study Joke, a document with credibility that would predict the growing instability of oil prices, the increasing likelihood of genocides around the world, the inability of America to successfully prevent an amorally rising Chinese and Russian global supremacy, financial crashes, and a severe hit to the American standard of living as our fiscal imbalances are corrected for us by foreigners who no longer need to lend us money, fear our military, or see us as a force for good and stability. I wish this document existed, and recommended a severe change in strategy and barring that, Presidential resignation. But such a document, even though it would be more credible than the Iraq Study group, and even though it falls more along the lines of what Americans voted for this cycle - an honest appraisal of where we are - it can't exist, because the courtiers would never allow it.
As our situation gets uglier, John McCain may come out looking better and better. He's not trying to win in Iraq, he's trying to blame Bush and the Democrats for losing Iraq. James Baker made that very clear when he said this morning that the ONLY critic of the report who had an alternative plan was John McCain, adding that he had enormous respect for McCain. I can't predict whether McCain's position is going to help him. What I can say is that if Democratic elites choose to rely on this report as anything but a propaganda wedge, then the assumptions of this report - that it's not worth rehashing the initial invasion and the massive failure of the establishment's apparatus for judgment - are going to become the standard arbiter for what we do going forward. And in that case, it won't matter that McCain supported Bush, because we need to look forward, as the Iraq Study Group says. And McCain is the only one with a plan to do that.