Today there is an abundant supply of news stories analyzing the significance of the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and explaining the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, even though the recommendations aren’t supposed to be public yet.

All of the abundance can be boiled down to three words: Bush ain’t budgin’.

Let’s start with the Iraq Study Group. A number of news stories strongly imply that the ISG from its inception limited itself to recommendations they thought they might be able to sell to Bush. David Sanger writes for the New York Times:

… The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has shied away from recommending explicit timelines in favor of a vaguely timed pullback. The report that the panel will deliver to President Bush next week would, at a minimum, leave a force of 70,000 or more troops in the country for a long time to come, to train the Iraqis and to insure against collapse of a desperately weak central government. …

… 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 easy.”

The group never seriously considered the position that Representative John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is a leading voice on national security issues, took more than a year ago, that withdrawal should begin immediately. The group did debate timetables, especially after a proposal, backed by influential Democratic members of the commission, that a robust diplomatic strategy and better training of Iraqis be matched up with a clear schedule for withdrawal. But explicit mention of such a schedule was dropped.

Helen Thomas writes,

Don’t expect any dramatic recommendations from the Iraq Study Group led by Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind. The nine men and one woman on the panel are cautious Washington insiders who got picked for the job because of their don’t-rock-the-boat reputations. After all, they might want to get asked again, sometime in the future, to serve on another White House commission.

This is unfortunate because the dire mess in Iraq demands bold action by the U.S. The real solution is a cakewalk out of Iraq tomorrow. The world would stand in shock and awe.

The Washington Post’s article by Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks is headlined “Iraq Panel to Urge Pullout Of Combat Troops by ’08.” Then the weaseling begins: “The call to pull out combat brigades by early 2008 would be more a conditional goal than a firm timetable,” Baker and Ricks write. The famous “conditions on the ground” and all that.

And note that qualifier “combat.” Troops would be left in Iraq in an “advise and support” capacity. So how many troops will be “pulled out” by 2008?

Although it was not clear how many U.S. troops would be left in Iraq by 2008, some people knowledgeable about the commission’s deliberations have said that it might be possible to reduce the force of 140,000 to half by then. “There’ll still be a presence there that will be significant just because of the nature of embedded forces,”said one of the sources familiar with the commission’s report. “It won’t be what we have now, I’ll tell you that.”

In other words, the ISG will recommend reducing the number of troops in Iraq only by half over the next couple of years, but that wouldn’t be a firm commitment.

Bleep that.

Fred Kaplan explains:

Judging from the advance leaks and previews, the Baker-Hamilton commission’s upcoming report on Iraq will do exactly what these blue-ribbon salvage jobs are meant to do: a) Stake out a position halfway between the president and his critics without fully satisfying either; b) provide “bipartisan” cover for both sides to shuffle toward middle ground; and yet c) sidestep the central question, which is too unsettling for anyone to face and which can still be kicked down the road for a bit, to everyone’s relief.

The panel’s recommendations seem to be as follows: Shift the U.S. military mission away from combat and more toward support of the Iraqi military (supplying logistics, intelligence, training, and advising); in tandem, cut the U.S. troop presence by roughly half, from 140,000 to 70,000 over the next year or two; redeploy most of them to the gigantic bases that we’ve been constructing inside Iraq over the past three years; and reach out diplomatically to Iraq’s neighbors—including Iran and Syria—to help stabilize the country and keep its conflicts from spreading across the region.

Walter Shapiro writes that “It is easy to guess why the commission has apparently confused blandness with boldness: an irresistible temptation to tiptoe through the tulips in trying to sway the dead-enders in the White House.” The problem with this “middle ground” approach is that, so far, all indications are that President Bush won’t budge from his “on to victory” position (formerly known as the “stay the course” position). Richard Wolffe writes in Newsweek:

The [Bush – al-Maliki] summit was in many ways a pre-emptive strike against next week’s much-anticipated report by the study group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. Some pundits have suggested that Baker is running a kind of shadow national security council, as if he (and the president’s father) could run the place better than the current team.

Bush’s response has been clear all week: he’s running the real White House, and he doesn’t think much of the shadow team’s ideas. Talks with Syria? Not a chance—they’ll think we’re letting them “off the hook” for their bad behavior in Lebanon. Talks with Iran? Even less likely—they’ll think we don’t care about their nuclear ambitions. Troop withdrawals? Not realistic any time soon. “I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq,” Bush said. “We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there.”

Joe Conason writes at Salon that Bush isn’t fond of the ISG’s other recommendations.

According to every leak and rumor, the Iraq Study Group is expected to urge President Bush to directly “engage” with Syria and Iran as part of a broader strategy to curtail the chaotic communal violence that is slaughtering so many Iraqis every day. Although the president has not denounced that idea publicly, he and Vice President Cheney are widely expected to ignore any such advice. Sitting down with hostile regimes to settle differences is not consistent with their philosophy of power, in which America speaks and others listen.

Michael Hirsch says, in effect, that the ISG is a waste of time:

Here’s why the Baker-Hamilton report is destined to land with a thud, after weeks of messianic hype. According to sources who have seen the draft report introduced this week, the group will recommend deeper engagement with Iran and Syria in hopes these countries can help us quell the violence in Iraq. But George W. Bush, who remains a true neocon believer—”It’s the regime, stupid”—is very unlikely to cut deals with such evil states, except in the most foot-dragging way. In any case, with each passing week Iraq’s sectarian fratricide makes these neighboring countries less and less relevant. One doesn’t have to be trained by Hizbullah or the Iranian secret service to grab a few Sunnis off the street every night and shoot them in the head. But until those killings stop, the yes-it-is-a-civil war-no-it’s-not-a-civil-war in Iraq will continue to rage out of control.

The James Baker-Lee Hamilton group will also recommend tackling the problem of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But this central issue of Islamist discontent no longer has much to do with the violence in Iraq, just as the violence has less and less to do with Al Qaeda. The neocon fantasists, in their headiest days, used to say that “the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad.” This meant that somehow, in ways they could never spell out, the Israeli-Palestinian issue would be resolved after democracy was achieved in Iraq. Now Baker’s thought seems to be that the road to Baghdad goes through Jerusalem. This is just as silly as the earlier idea. Take this down: the road to Baghdad goes through Iraq.

Above all, sources indicate the Baker-Hamilton group will fudge the issue of what the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq should be, and what a specific timetable for withdrawal should look like. This means that, almost as soon as the report comes out in early December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will be able to ignore it, and he likely will. Prominent Democrats like Sens. Carl Levin, Jack Reed and Joseph Biden will begin to dismiss it and reintroduce their own plans. Biden, for example, plans to hold six weeks of hearings in January, after he takes over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that will quickly turn Baker-Hamilton into a relic of that long-ago autumn of 2006.

Bottom line, the ISG was less a study group than a collection of appeasers. Instead of trying to craft the policy that is best for the U.S., our troops, and Iraq, they tried to put together something that might appease voters by making Iraq less of a hot button in 2008 while also appeasing Bush, who is determined not to change his position. It’s already clear that they failed to appease Bush. I doubt voters are going to be enthusiastic about the ISG recommendations, either.

That said, I am not confident that Joe Biden will come up with a bolder plan than the ISG; we’ll see. But televised hearings have a capacity to surprise and lead to results — good and bad — that weren’t necessarily on the agenda. Stay tuned.

18 thoughts on “Appeasers

  1. …and yet another in the building list of parallels to Vietnam: pull out the combat troops and leave advisors to work with and train the indigenous forces. The next very important step the Iraq Study Group needs to recommend is the shipment of a platoon of highly-skilled structural engineers to Baghdad; their job will be to determine which buildings in the Green Zone are structually beefy enough to support the weight of the Blackhawk helicopters that will be needed to fly the last Americans out of Iraq…

  2. “PR show.”

    You know at 2 billion a week for 104 weeks is 208 billion and that ain’t counting the blood. I just don’t think little georgie’s ass is worth 208 more billion.

  3. I don’t see much difference between the original PNAC plan and the ISG’s strategy. Just a different window dressing.

  4. I’m with Jack K, the words “advise and support” make us Vietnam-era folks cringe.

    I do love Fred Kaplan’s phrase “blue ribbon salvage jobs,” though. Absolutely nails the essence of the ISG.

  5. Good point, Swami.
    And isn’t there something beyond crazy about turning matters of life and death into mind-games….. mind-games focused on achieving voter-placating nuances of ‘stay the course’……and mind-games forcused on spinning new image props for boy-George’s pathetically brittle and irrelevant ego?

  6. One would think there would have been an ISG before the invasion.It would have saved us a bunch of pain. Impeach the rat bastards.

  7. oops, make that focused, not forcused. [We are having a weather mess here with 1/2 of ice under 9 inches of drifing snow…. my brother and I in our respective homes are snowed in some 17 miles from our 84 year old mom who just had surgery and is without electricity or heat…….I was trying to get help for her by phone while typing….so er, my ‘focus’ got diverted]

  8. ‘Know what ya mean Donna…
    My 85 year old mom just had a heart attack and I can’t go see her because all three of us are sick with a nasty virus and stoned out on Nyquil, which I don’t know (or much care at this point) if I spelled correctly…

  9. ISG was just Daddy’s attempt to fix the mess Jr got himself into (see the pattern here?). Junior and Uncle Dick don’t want any f__’n help, and so we and the rest of the world are stuck with the boy king, the mess he’s made, and his self-righteous beliefs about himself and his handiwork.

    Daddy’s petulant child is the root of the problem, not what W has created in Iraq, although the latter has the increasing potential to morph into a problem whose magnitude will make us all forget about GW Bush.

    Given Bush’s intransigence, and the fact that we’re stuck with him, there really are only two solutions – 1) impeachment, on which I agree with your earlier assessment that it’s impractical – and 2) cut off the funds. Dennis Kucinich has become the main proponent for this latter course, and I wonder how much of a movement he’ll be able to build in the Congress. This is only one area of many, where we’ll find out whether the new Congresss will have the guts to stand up to the Boy King.

    Sidenote: I was watching the evening news last night on ABC, where they interviewed a half dozen or so wives of returning GIs. While they were glad to get their men back from the war, all of them echoed the Bush line, that they wanted their men to go back and “finish the job”. Whatever that was – I wanted to ask them. I’m certain part of this is a necessary rationalization for letting your man go into harm’s way, but it’s also raw evidence for how much the gullible part of the country is still hypnotized by the Bush line.

  10. Moonbat, maybe Kerry’s “joke” had some truth to it. I can’t believe that wives would want their husbands and father of their children back in harms way. It totally blows me away. My cousin was in Iraq last year and couldn’t get out of Army fast enough. He has no desire to return to become cannon fodder fro GWB. He feels there is no good end to this.

  11. This impasse won’t be resolved until, as Maha suggests, hearings in the new congress are held.

  12. A dead ‘military advisor’ smells just the same as a dead GI.

    I could have been talked into trying to build a mid-east coalition including Iran & Syria. The only carrot that we could have dangled is that we WILL leave if THEY can help stabilize the situation.

    George intends to occupy Iraq for a LONG time. That means we are screwed, because the average Moslem, the moderates, find that an issue worth dying for. They are willing to try a rematch of the Crusades. No governement that will sanction a permanent occupation will survive. They will be voted out in the next election if they live that long.

    My hope is that the Congress can keep the spotlight on the failure that this war is to the degree that the 08 election is between the Republican with a plan to get us out and the Democrat with the plan to get us out. Every bleepin’ GI in Iraq – OUT!

  13. Vietnamization anyone?

    It’s, of course, a lie that the Pentagon “can’t” pull out the troops quickly…they damn well know how to transport large numbers of soldiers quickly.

    The simple truth is that these people who “support the troops” prefer policies that will make more troops die. I’d have to say, that those of us who want the troops home and safe are the ones who support the troops.

  14. ISG (Is this the Iraq survey group, Or the Iraq study group)?

    Our troops will leave Iraq when bush leaves the white house. (Or at least begin to leave) That’s the timeline. I can’t see any politician running for office in ’08’ with his platform including the continued occupation of Iraq. It seems to me the ISG is just another idea to argue about while the fiasco continues. A time waster. A stall tactic. How many times have we been told, six more months? In 6 months we will know. Oh wait the decider has commissioned another report! Hopefully the cost of this war will actually be included in the budget soon; the slightest bit of oversight may end this thing sooner. But I would not bet on it.

  15. Perhaps someone could help me with Christmas lyrics for the GIs in Baghdad to sing:

    “It’s beginning to look a lot like VietNam
    every where you go…”

  16. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Twilight Zone

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