Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Iraq Study Group

I'm not sure what to make of the Iraq Study Group and all the noise in the media that surrounds it. James Baker's group started considering what to do about Iraq last April and is not expected to make its recommendations until the end of the year. An irony is that the Iraq Study Group is spending far more time on how to end the war than the Bush Administration spent before the war on figuring out what to do after the fall of Baghdad. There have been many strategic blunders in Iraq, the biggest being the decision to go to war in the first place. But the biggest blunder after that was the lack of so-called 'postwar planning'. We'll know soon if the blunders will simply continue.

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor has a useful summary of where we're at with the Iraq Study Group:
For the bipartisan panel of luminaries known as the Iraq Study Group, the most important thing now may be hammering out a framework for peace in Washington, not drawing up new lists of options for US policy toward Iraq.

After all, despite all the Washington talk about cooperation since last week's elections, profound differences about the way forward remain between many Democrats and Republicans, as well as among them. ...

Enter the Iraq panel, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Democratic congressmen Lee Hamilton. Timing - plus the nature of its members - may have thrust the group into a central role in perhaps the most important policy debate now facing the nation.

"Maybe an outside group can craft a policy that both sides can accept, though they don't want to have responsibility for drafting it," says William Martel, an associate professor of security studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The 10-member Iraq Study Group was created by Congress last spring. At the time the move generated little notice... ...

The article includes a list of the panel members, most of whom seem reasonably good choices. I have to admit, though, I have no idea why Sandra Day O'Conner is on the panel. Wouldn't somebody like former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft have been a better choice?

I think it's important to listen to what the Iraq Study Group has to say but I'm not putting too much faith into it. As far back as the summer of 2003, Tony Cordesman, a Middle East military analyst, made his first visit to Iraq and has periodically put together some useful reports in the space of weeks only to have Bush and the Pentagon ignore his analysis and recommendations.

Bush is already showing signs that he'll simply ignore the Iraq Study Group despite the fact that there's a real potential that the panel could provide Bush with the political cover he needs to extricate his ego from his own fiasco. However, if Republicans continue to play political games with Iraq, it is likely more harm will be done to our foreign policy and to our nation. And the deaths will go on.

A great nation ought to know when to fold a bad hand. Let's hope Bush chooses the bipartisan route but if he doesn't, there are Democrats who are skilled at checking a president's power but they will need help from different quarters. If Bush remains stubborn, let's hope that essential help is coming. Iraq is a major strategic failure. We are in danger of compounding the error. It will represent an even greater moral failure if the war in Iraq goes on for another two years.

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