December 8, 2006
It may not have much immediate impact on the Bush administration's war policy, but the report by the Iraq Study Group has brought about a refreshing change of political climate in Washington. Ironically, the report's blunt declaration that the situation in Iraq "is grave and deteriorating" had a cathartic effect on discourse about the war. By bringing together elder statesmen from diverse political backgrounds, the groundwork has been laid for a new, broader consensus on how to go forward in the "war against terrorism." United we stand. The key recommendations are:
George Will played the contrarian pessimist by writing that the report was "overtaken by reality," and contains several suggestions that are banal or just not appropriate. "By what the ISG did not recommend -- e.g., many more troops and much more money -- it recognized that the deterioration is beyond much remediation." Perhaps, but this is no time to spread gloom. As even the Democrats on the ISG stated, we owe it to the Iraqis to give it at least one more big try. One thing that bothers me is the report's emphasis on clear-cut "milestones," which remind one of the "timetable" for withdrawal that many war critics have demanded. It simply is not militarily feasible to pursue objectives on a regular sequential basis. Any decisions about troop levels must be made on the spot, based on the latest assessment of the situation.
According to Glenn Kessler and Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, it should called "The Realist Manifesto." Although the report does not explicitly deal with the objective of promoting democratization in the Middle East, the recommendation to seek negotiated deals with the authoritarian regimes in Damascus and Tehran leave no doubt that democracy should be put on the back burner for now. That doesn't mean democracy is doomed in that region, it just means the political dynamics are not favorable at the moment. As I have written, a diplomatic approach does not necessarily mean that we expect a quick or favorable response; it is rather part of a maneuver to put the onus for failure on the other countries, showing that we at least tried to cooperate with them. With U.S. credibility and prestige at a low level right now, we have little choice but to repair our position with such a diplomatic gesture. Overall, I think Kessler and Ricks are exaggerating the impact of the Realist intellectual tradition somewhat, but there is no doubt that the neoconservative ideological impetus behind U.S. foreign policy is utterly exhausted. The next two years will be a pragmatic interregnum as we wait to see who will guide the ship of state during the 2009-2012 presidential term.
As a Virginia Republican, I am proud that Rep. Frank Wolf played a central role in organizing the Iraq Study Group. He is a moderate conservative who is highly respected in both parties. In 1986 or so I met with him at a constituent input meeting, urging him to support the Contadora peace initiative in Central America. At the time, I was disappointed at his support for the Reagan administration's policies, but I now credit him for being on the right side of history.
It was a virtual love fest in the U.S. Senate, which confirmed Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense yesterday after he acknowledged that the United States "is not winning" the war in Iraq. The very fact that he said those once-taboo words added to the welcome sense of relief in Washington, raising hopes for a more effective war effort. The vote was 95-2, with Jim Bunning and Rick Santorum voting "no." (Both are Republicans.) See Washington Post. This vote happened to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.