- 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
- --David Sanger, The New York Times, "Idea of Rapid
Withdrawal From Iraq Seems to Fade," Dec. 1.
- What a fiasco this whole Baker-Hamilton episode is, with
all its attendant leaks and media manipulations -- a veritable symphony
of Typical Washington Bullshit. It has all the hallmarks of the pusillanimous,
cover-your-ass mentality that rules our nation's capital, where all problems
are political problems and actual real emergencies never make it to the
desk of anyone who matters.
- The Baker-Hamilton commission, also known as the Iraq
Study Group, is due to release its long-awaited recommendations this Wednesday,
but the overall gist of the panel's labors was obvious way back in March,
when President Bush first appointed the panel. Baker-Hamilton from the
very start was a classic bullshit-cloud in the proud tradition of those
damnable congressional "studies" we hear about from time to time,
in which "bipartisan panels" are convened to much fanfare and
packed off to the wilds of suburban Virginia for years of intellectually
masturbatory activity -- the usual solution, whenever House or Senate leaders
are faced with a genuinely thorny political issue that offers no easy or
obvious solutions, i.e. a problem that can't be simply blamed on one or
the other political party, but which needs actual fixing.
- Whenever one of those issues pops up, Washington politicians
generally find themselves at a loss. They don't know what to do. For the
vast majority of these buffoons, their expertise lies elsewhere. These
guys know how to spread their legs for campaign contributors, raid the
budget for redundant public works projects and worm their way onto the
six o'clock news wearing a hardhat or a Cubs cap -- but the average elected
official knows very little about actually solving real political problems,
because in most cases that's not what got him elected.
- The successful politician today is the one who can best
convert the agendas of his campaign contributors into politically saleable
policies. That's the business of government today; both the legislative
and the executive branch are mainly engaged in searching out and finding
the acceptable mean between voter sentiment and financial interest. It's
sort of an ongoing math problem -- figuring out how many voters you can
afford to fuck every four years, or how much money you should be extracting,
and from which sponsors, for each rape of your constituents.
- That kind of negotiation, Washingtonians are great at.
But there's no upside to taking on difficult problems for most politicians,
who a) usually don't give a shit anyway, since there are few problems outside
of anthrax-infected envelopes that actually affect a Washington politician's
life, and b) have few institutional remedies for effectively addressing
problems even if they were so inclined, since so many backs need to be
scratched en route to taking action.
- And so, when faced with an unsolvable or seemingly unsolvable
political conundrum, most politicians feel there's only one thing to do.
You appear onstage with your rival party's leader, embrace him, announce
that you're going to find a "bipartisan" solution together, and
then nominate a panel of rotting political corpses who will spend 18 months,
a few dozen million dollars, many thousands of taxpayer-funded air miles,
and about 130,000 pages of impossibly verbose text finding a way for both
parties to successfully take the fork in the road and blow off the entire
issue, whatever it was.
- It's important, when you nominate your panel, to dig
up the oldest, saggiest, rubberiest, most used-up political whores on the
Eastern seaboard to take up your cause. That way, you can be sure that
the panel will know its place and not address any extraneous issues in
its inquiry -- like, for instance, whose fault a certain war is, or whether
the whole idea of a "War on Terrorism" needs to be rethought,
or whether the idea of preemptive defense as a general strategy is viable
at all, or whether previously unthinkable solutions may now have to be
countenanced, or whether there is anyone currently in a position of responsibility
who perhaps should immediately be removed from office and hung by his balls.
Your panel should contain people who are not experts or interested parties
in the relevant field (since experts or interested parties might be tempted
to come up with real, i.e. politically dangerous solutions), but it should
contain people who are recognizable political celebrities whose names will
lend weight to your whole enterprise, although not for any logical reason.
- 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?
- Baker-Hamilton blew off those questions, and it's no
wonder, because no one in Washington wants to deal with them. The Republicans
don't want to agree to a withdrawal timetable because it's an admission
of defeat and policy failure, while the Democrats don't want to be the
first to call for a withdrawal because they're afraid of being pilloried
in the next election season for a lack of toughness. Both sides are afraid
of being responsible for a civil war bloodbath if the U.S. troops pull
out, and neither side wants to be the first to suggest taking the humiliating
step of inviting Syria or Iran to the negotiating table with anything like
- Baker-Hamilton takes all of this into account, offering
no concrete or controversial suggestions that would bind either party to
unpopular action in the near future. In essence, all Baker-Hamilton accomplished
was a very vague admission that Bush's Iraq adventure is somehow irrevocably
fucked and that we have to get our troops out of that country as soon as
possible, a conclusion that was obvious to the entire world two long years
ago. But even this pathetically timid intellectual assertion was deemed
too controversial to risk unveiling before the 2006 midterm elections,
and it's obvious now that both parties have decided to wait until 2008
to deal with the more important questions of "when" and "how."
- In the midst of all of the recent fanfare about Baker-Hamilton,
some of the actual actors in the Iraq disaster have been using the media
to similarly absolve themselves of any responsibility to act. We started
to see this happening on November 15, when Michael Gordon of The New York
Times (who seems to be spending a lot of time fellating intelligence officials
lately) ran a ponderous "news analysis" suggesting that a rapid
withdrawal might not be the best idea (Get Out Now? Not So Fast, Some Experts
Say," Nov. 15). In this piece, a host of military and intelligence
officials argued vociferously that America's problems in Iraq stemmed from
not having enough troops, and that an early withdrawal would accelerate
the country's decline into civil war. Among the voices quoted in Gordon's
piece is former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, who as Jeff Cohen noted was one
of the chief pom-pom wavers for the war before the invasion and one of
the many experts who insisted that Iraq possessed WMDs. Gordon conveniently
left Pollack's record on that score out of the article.
- Pollack and other officials like former Central Command
head Anthony Zinni furthermore argue in the Gordon piece that what is needed
now is an increase in troops in the next six months to "regain momentum"
as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq.
- A few weeks later, Gordon ran another piece (Bush Adviser's
Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader," Nov. 29) which contained a
leak of a memo by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley which basically
expressed doubts that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is capable
of doing much of anything to control sectarian violence in Iraq.
- The gist of both of these Gordon pieces is obvious: the
military wants it known that it isn't responsible for any of America's
problems in Iraq, and that the real problem is that Bush failed to set
up an effective political context for the military to work within.
- With the military inundating the newspapers with leaks
that basically pass the buck for the Iraq disaster to the diplomats and
the politicians, the Bush administration still refusing to publicly face
reality, and the politicians outside the administration hiding behind a
Baker-Hamilton report that shelves any meaningful decisions until some
undetermined date far into the future (while being careful to avoid "not-so-open"
confrontations with the president), the Iraq catastrophe can now be safely
perpetuated ad nauseum -- and the only people who will suffer for it will
be people who don't matter in Washington, i.e. the soldiers and the Iraqi
- We may soon have to face this fact: With the midterm
elections over, and George Bush already a lame duck, the Iraq war is no
longer an urgent problem to anyone on the Hill who matters. The Democrats
are in no hurry to end things because it will benefit them if Iraq is still
a mess in '08; just as they did this fall, they'll bitch about the war
without explicitly promising to end it at any particular time. George Bush
has already run his last campaign and he's not about to voluntarily fuck
up his legacy with a premature surrender or a humiliating concession to
Syria or Iran. At least publicly, John McCain is going to head into '08
siding with those in the military who believe the problem is a lack of
- For the Iraq disaster to end, someone among these actors
is going to have to make a difficult decision -- admit defeat, invite a
bloody civil war, lose face before a pair of rogue terror-supporting states
-- and it's obvious that none of them is ever going to do that, not until
there's absolutely no choice.
- The Baker-Hamilton report is being praised for its cautious,
sensible, bipartisan approach to the Iraq problem (Time magazine even called
it "genius") but actually all it is a tacit recognition of this
pass-the-buck dynamic in Washington. Because there is currently no way
to even think about ending the actual problem without someone in Washington
having to eat a very big bucket of shit, both sides have agreed, in the
spirit of so-called bipartisan cooperation, to avoid thinking about ending
the problem in the immediate future. Instead, the official policy in the
meantime, bet on it, will end up being some version of a three-pronged
strategy that involves 1) staying the course or even increasing the amount
of troops temporarily 2) seeing what happens in '08, and 3) revisiting
the issue after we see who wins the White House two years from now.
- Baker-Hamilton wasn't about finding solutions to the
Iraq problem. It was about finding viable political solutions to the Iraq
problem. Since there are none, it punted the problem to the next administration.
Maybe the war will be real to those folks and they'll actually do something.
Don't hold your breath.