As a result of the Iraq Study Group, President Bush has been given one last chance to alter course on Iraq. This did not, however, come about the way James Baker intended. It came about because the long-anticipated report turned out to be such a widely agreed-upon farce. From its wildly hyped, multiple magazine-cover rollout (Annie Leibovitz in Men's Vogue, no less) to its mishmash of 79 (no less) recommendations, the report has fallen so flat that the field is now clear for the president to recommend to a war-weary country something new and bold.
The ISG has not just been attacked by left and right, Democrat and Republican. It has invited ridicule. Seventy-nine recommendations. Interdependent, insists Baker. They should be taken as a whole. "I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad and say, 'I like this but I don't like that.'" On the basis of what grand unifying vision? On the authority of what superior wisdom? A 10-person commission including such Middle East experts as Sandra Day O'Connor, Alan Simpson and Vernon Jordan?
This kind of bipartisan elder-statesmen commission is perfectly appropriate as a consensus-building exercise for, say, a long-range problem such as Social Security. It is a ludicrous mechanism for devising strategic changes in the middle of a war.
Its major recommendation of gradual retreat is unremarkable -- exactly what you'd expect from a committee whose objective is consensus. It reflects a certain conventional wisdom in Washington that the war is already lost. And if that were true, we should indeed be retreating. And the sooner the better, even more quickly than the ISG recommends.
But having told us that the price of leaving Iraq to chaos is unacceptably high, the commission never attempts to come up with a plan for actually succeeding. Its only new initiative is to go regional, and involve neighboring Syria and Iran.
Syria should stop infiltration, declares the report. And Iran ``should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq.'' Yes, and obesity should be eradicated, bird flu cured, and traffic fatalities, particularly the multicar variety, abolished. Such fatuous King Canute pronouncements give the report its air of detachment from reality.
This holding back of the tides is to be accomplished by negotiations with the likes of Iran. Baker admits that Iranian representatives told the commission that they are unlikely to cooperate. But we must press on, Baker insists, because we will thus expose Iran as "a rejectionist nation" that is "not ... willing to help try and stabilize Iraq."
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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