The Iraq Study Group and George Bush’s War

December 6th, 2006

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Washington held its breath today as the Iraq Study Group released its hotly anticipated report. And the Baker-Hamilton wise man shuffle (plus honorary wise man Sandra Day O’Connor – she was the one in pink, in case you weren’t sure) did not disappoint: the study is well written, decisive in its advice, full of reassuring moderation, and it sounds entirely plausible. With any luck, it will actually be adopted. With a lot of luck, it will actually work.

Baker and Hamilton were quick to point out that they were not offering a “magic formula.” That’s certainly true – this is a wise document, but there’s nothing magic or even surprising about it. In fact, there are plenty of knowledgeable people inside the US government who could have come up with this document all on their own, without an eight-month panel exploration. But they didn’t.

That seems both good and bad. It’s good that the country has the benefit of such sage advice from outside sources, but it’s bad that we need it.

After all, the Iraq Study Group, like the 9/11 Commission, is a wholly extra-governmental, unelected and ad hoc entity, wielding tremendous influence over our elected government. How did it come to pass that at a decisive time in American history on some of the most important decisions our government faces, we are outsourcing to retirees? Are Congress and the Executive Branch, no longer able to govern? That appears to be the case.

The wise men plus were diplomatic and modulated, as wise men generally are, but this report is inherently an indictment of America’s leadership. More than anything else, it is an indictment of George Bush’s leadership. It is, after all, Mr. Bush’s war. Mr. Bush got us into this war, and Mr. Bush has failed to take the steps that will get us out of this war. Congress is complicit too, for it failed to hold Bush’s feet to the fire.

In the end, the report’s findings are as much about America as they are about Iraq. “The President and Congress must work together,” the report pleads in its opening paragraphs. “The policymakers have to take over at this point,” added Lee Hamilton at the press conference. The findings of the report are clear: the only viable solution to the problem of Iraq is for the US government to be functional.

Let’s hope that’s one finding George Bush is capable of embracing.