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The report is a dud

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It's true. The Iraq Study Group, a.k.a. Baker-Hamilton Commission, has released a report with little value outside of total repudiation of the Bush strategy. For those who are still years behind rational perception (and public opinion) of Iraq, I guess it might come as a shock that "stay the course" is a massive failure, but all this does is catch up Official Washington Consensus Opinion with the rest of the country.

In addition to rejecting the current strategy, the plan tears apart, and I think rightly so, the Biden-Gelb plan of tripartite division (as opposed to loose federalism, which is a good idea) and recommends a transfer of focus from counter-insurgency to training, advising, and departing. These are needles of success in a haystack of horse . . . well, perhaps I'm mixing my metaphors a bit much. But you get the idea.

It's difficult to tell whether the ISG report ultimately represents a failure of brainpower or a failure of nerve. The point of the group's report was to explain the current situation in Iraq and how to best move forward, but instead it ultimately (if unsurprisingly) became a political entity. They took into account political positions in an attempt to craft solutions that would be politically palatable, rather than stating their unvarnished findings. In other words, either all these smart people took eight months to tell us what we all already knew, or they watered down their opinion for the sake of not making waves. Neither option is especially heartening.

The report also fails to put Iraq in the greater context of our national security. Although it does mention how the Israel/Palestine is a crucial issue, and it rightly suggests increased dealings with regional powers, it doesn't explain to the American public how the Iraq war is crippling our greater foreign policy, our international legitimacy, and our long-term national security. Democratic leaders are endorsing the plan, but because it confirms many of their past assessments, not because it's anything especially new or special.

Finally, to some extent the report is the worst of all worlds, because it caved to political pressures but has no implementation power, which leaves the Bush administration able to pick and choose, creating a bad version of some of the recommendations while claiming to adhere to the report. If only there was a similar kind of project, something in the past for which important figures crossed party lines to come together and offer suggestions for the good of the country in the wake of a disaster. If we had this kind of example, maybe we could see what the Bush administration tends to do in such a situation. Oh, wait! That sounds awfully like the . . . 9/11 Commission, which the Bush administration fought, then allowed, then ignored, then picked pieces from, casting aside the most important suggestions, and claimed to have implemented. Not exactly a successful precedent, but one I expect to be largely followed in this case.

I would like to be wrong about these things, I really would. I would like to, just once, express skepticism about a centrist or bipartisan or blue-ribbon effort on Iraq and have it come out better than I expected. It's no fun being right when the result is bad for the country. But this one is, as expected, unimpressive.

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