Thursday, December 07, 2006

Study Hall

Still just starting to digest some the salient details of the a-little-too-anticipated ISG report, but this sounds about right so far:

Baker-Hamilton was a classic whore-panel in every sense. None were Middle East experts. None had logged serious time in Iraq, before or after the invasion. All of them had influential friends on both sides of the aisle all over Washington, parties in the future they wanted to keep getting invites to, ambitions yet to be realized. You could assign Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton, Sandra Day O'Connor and Vernon Jordan, Jr. to take on virtually any problem and feel very confident that between the four of them, they would find a way to avoid the ugly heart of any serious political dilemma. If the missiles were on the way, and nuclear Armageddon was just seconds off, those four fossils would find a way to issue a recommendation whose headline talking points would be something like "heightened caution," dialogue with Sweden, and a 14 percent increase in future funding for the Air Force.

Hence the conclusions of the Baker-Hamilton report were predetermined virtually from the start. We could all have expected that the group's only unequivocal conclusions would restate the obvious -- that we need an eventual withdrawal of troops, that there needs to be more "robust regional diplomacy," that Iraqi forces need to assume more of the security burden, and that there will be no hope of a political solution without some cooperation from Syria and Iran. Duh! Because the really thorny questions are the specifics: when do we leave, and, more importantly, what do we offer Iran and Syria in return for their cooperation, what horrifying inevitable humiliation will we be prepared to suffer at their hands, and what form will talks with those gloating countries take?

Exactly. Nothing will actually be done, because one side can't admit they're wrong, and the other side doesn't have the cojones to forcefully assert their rightness (or at least their somewhat-less-wrongness). We're already seeing, hearing, and reading the initial effects of the report, which is a meta-reframing of how the war is discussed. It is less of an actionable plan for resolution and accountability, than merely a centrist manifesto for covering one's ass, remaining politically viable, making it look like something is being done, and most importantly, providing pols with a handy method of making it look like it was their idea. It's a bunch of no-shit-Sherlock bromides, without any concrete modes of achieving them, because any possibility of even gracefully stanching the blood geyser would require taking political risk. And every one of the ISG participants, as well as the people who will be "implementing" (as in, regurgitating it weekly for Tim Russert for the next two years) the plan, has had the risk gene long bred and conditioned out of them.

That doesn't mean that the discussion wasn't sorely in need of being reframed, just that this is a marginal alternative at best. It would even be acceptable if it provided solutions and modest political cover; it would almost be worth it to stop Iraq's descent into a genocidal failed state even at the cost of accountability, except that true accountability, rather than merely being punitive in nature, is necessary to have any hope of preventing repeat performances down the road.

At any rate, it's something of a start, I guess, but a rather inauspicious and diffident one, one with just enough loopholes to allow Mister Man to play kick-the-can and try to consolidate the dwindling idiot base during the lame-duck period.

And hey, speaking of the idiot base, what's Sportin' Life Bennett have to say about all this?

For a report to identify the outside agitators (which happen to also be the worst terrorist-sponsoring states in the world — Iran & Syria) as “provid[ing] arms, financial support, and training for Shiite militias within Iraq,” i.e., fomenting war, and then say we should negotiate and offer incentives to those countries is simply too much to bear. Insult is added to injury with the absurdity that Iran and Syria then become members of something called the Iraq Support Group. Committeeism simply got out of control here.


This is the triumph of the therapeutic, where bipartisanship — a hug across the aisle — has become a higher value than justice. The crisis of the house divided has been inverted; we no longer are worried about the crisis but the House, the moral, the good, and the just take a backseat to collegiality. Does history really give a hoot about bipartisanship? Who cares whether they are getting along? The task is to do the right thing, especially in war. But, when relativism is the highest value, agreement becomes the highest goal, regardless of right and wrong. And, woe to those who disagree, they will be sent whence they came — the outer reaches of “extremism.” This is the tyranny of the “best people” today’s equivalent of the Cliveden set.


In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority. Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible.

You gotta give the guy style points for using "whence" correctly, which is rare at best these days. But, um, isn't this the tool that wrote several turgid crapfests hectoring Americans about their amoral, decadent ways -- and then gambled away the royalties and then some?

Jesus. Hypocritical much, asshole?

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