Friday, December 01, 2006

The pointless Iraq Study Group:

The WaPo reports today that the Jim Baker's Iraq Study Group will recommend "withdrawing nearly all combat troops by the end of 2008 while leaving behind troops to train, advise and support the Iraqis, setting the first goal of a major drawdown of U.S. forces, sources familiar with the proposal said yesterday." That might sound like a great idea, pulling our people out and training-up the Iraqis, but isn't this what we've been doing for at least the past two years? According to the Pentagon, there are 300,000 Iraqis armed and ready to go, so why wait until 2008? What good will another year and a few billion dollars more going to do? But I digress . . .

According to the WaPo's sources, the ISG report does not propose that the 2008 date be a firm timetable for withdrawal, because in Iraq anything could happen between now and then, but the Iraqis need to be made to feel a sense of urgency about getting themselves together. "This is no longer an open-ended commitment and we're going to get this done whether the Iraqis like it or not," the source says. "Everybody understands that we're at the end of the road here."

'Everybody,' that is, except W. At yesterday's press conference with al-Maliki, he went out of his way to make sure everyone knew he wasn't buying this we-need-to-get-the-hell-out-of-this-mess stuff. "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington means there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism at all." [If anyone would know about the realism of the situation, it's W.] To put a finer point on where W.'s thinking on Iraq is, in Latvia earlier this week he said, "There is one thing I'm not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

I don't know, I might be wrong, but this doesn't exactly sound like a person who has clued into which way the prevailing political winds are blowing. Apparently, the lose of the Congress and the pressure being brought by those in his own party to change course before he destroys any prospect the GOP might have of keeping the White House in '08, hasn't made much of an impression on him. He's on a mission, he's not running for election and he's the Decider.

In the NYT David Sanger writes that member of the ISG are acutely aware of the problem of W. and his fanatical devotion to the war. "In private, some members of the Iraq Study Group have expressed concern that they could find themselves in not-quite-open confrontation with Mr. Bush. He's a true believer,' one participant in the group's debates said. 'Finessing the differences is not going to be easy.'"

That's something of an understatement. Convincing W. and his dark master Dick Cheney that they need to finally face up to stark reality that everything they've done in Iraq has been a monumental failure of epic proportions, is simply a bridge too far. It is just never going to happen. Beyond the fact that they'd have to admit that their perfect little war has turned into the worst military blunder in US history, which is a tall enough hurtle to jump in itself, they'd also have to suffer the ignominy of embracing the policy recommendations of Jim Baker & Co. That would be a bitter pill to swallow. The Rummy/Cheney cabal's entire rationale for maneuvering W. into office in the first place was to have another go at proving 43 and Baker were wrong on Iraq and that they, naturally, were right.

The more speculation there is about the ISG's report and chatter in the media and punditry about Daddy's wire men swooping in to save Shrub's sorry butt, the more W. will resist their ideas and the deeper Cheney & Co. will descend into the bunker. While everyone is waiting for Baker to come down from Mount Sinai with the tablets, Cheney and the White House are hatching new schemes to get around Baker's fix-it job. That mysterious trip he made to Saudi Arabia last week was apparently a bid to rope the "moderate" Sunni Arab's into using their influence on the "moderate" Iraqi Sunnis to support al-Maliki. Helene Cooper writes in the NYT that if this strategy works it would "theoretically give Mr. al-Maliki the political strength necessary to take on Mr. Sadr's Shiite militias." The quid pro quo for the Arabs would be that the administration would actually work on the Palestinian problem for the first time since they took office.

Talk about hair-brained schemes! Getting the Arabs to agree on which day it is tough enough, getting the Saudis and the Egyptians to work together to pull W.'s Iraqis chestnuts out of the fire is such a ridiculous notion that it would be funny if it wasn't so serious. These are the lengths the true believers in the White House and in Cheney's bunker are willing to go to avoid having to deal head-on with the consequences of their serial screw-ups.

The attitude of the ISG members, judging from the quotes popping up in the press recently, seems to be that they're pretty convinced the president is going to follow through on their recommendations. They are the adults, after all, why wouldn't W. & Co. do what they're told? If the resignation Philip Zelikow, Condi's Foggy Bottom brain truster, is any indication, however, I'd say they're in for a rude awakening. Zelikow says he's quitting because he's got to put his kids through school, but the scuttle-butt is that he's given up on trying to get these bozos to see sense. Zelikow is also not known for being a yes-man*, an unfortunate character trait which is not tolerated in the Bush administration. Helene Cooper in the NYT writes that, "one administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly noted that Mr. Zelikow had been frustrated with the slow pace of the administration's diplomatic efforts on the Middle East, Iran and North Korea."

Of course, this presupposes there actually have been any diplomatic efforts on those issues, which is debatable, but in any case, he's out the door. It is interesting to note that it was Zelikow who said two months ago that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was the "sine qua non" to get "moderate" Arab governments on board to "cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things we care about." This line of thinking seemingly has been co-opted by Cheney & Co. -- in a twisted way, back asswards way -- in their efforts to sucker the Saudis and the Egyptians into helping us out in Iraq. Since W. doesn't talk to people he doesn't like, this is the only course his administration is going to follow until they're yanked from office, kicking and screaming in 2008. I'm afraid the sorry reality is that the ISG's recommendations are off the menu until then. So, would you like to try the duck instead?

* Note on Zelikow: In a speech he gave at the University of Virginia in 2002 Zelikow said:

"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell."


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