WAYS TO GET OUT OF IRAQ ARE CLEAR, BUT WILL BUSH LISTEN TO THE ADVICE?
The release of the report by the near mythical Iraq Study Group is approaching the mega-hype, expectation and wide-eyed anticipation that usually surrounds the release of a fresh masterpiece by one of the world's great writers. Don't get your hopes up. It's unlikely to be a gripping read.
There's been plenty of leaks of what's supposed to be in the report. No shortage of ground-softening for Americans expecting it to supply the magic fix that even President Bush now no longer believes exists.
What will the Iraq Study Group report say? Will it provide meaning and truth?
Will it tell us what we want to hear? Or what we already know?
Will it open our eyes? Or will it blow our minds with a perspective and solution to the 'War On Iraq' that mere mortal brains had never chewed over, or dared to contemplate?
It's almost like a new Harry Potter For War Obsessives is about to hit the shelves.
But that analogy is beyond cruel.
There are, literally, hundreds of thousands of American mums and dads who already know that if the 'War On Iraq' doesn't end soon, their 'weekend warrior' sons and daughters in the National Guard and the Army Reserves will be hitting the blood-and-bomb-soaked highways of Iraq before they see their 21st birthdays.
Hundreds of thousands more American parents will soak up the details of the report to find out when or if their sons and daughters in the US military migth have to return for a second, third or fourth tour of duty.
But the biggest question today in the United States is not : What's In The Report?
The question is this : 'Will Bush Learn From It? Will He Change Course? Will He Listen To The Advice On Offer?
Remarkably, the general consensus in much of the American media is already clear : Fuck No.
This story from Newsweek details, comprehensively, just what is going to be in the Iraq Study Group report and reveals that it has about a Zero Chance of changing Bush's Iraq War plans :
The Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker Commission after its co-chairman, former secretary of State James A. Baker, has been widely seen as a gambit by Republican moderates close to Bush's father, the 41st president, to rescue the 43rd president from his disastrous plunge into Iraq.
Of all the things Bush dislikes, the idea of needing to be rescued by Daddy may well top the list.....the Iraq Study Group report, scheduled to be released this week, will set no time-tables or call for any troop reductions, according to a source familiar with the report, who, like everyone involved, requested anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the subject.
It will speak more generally of shifting U.S. troops from an active combat role to advising Iraqi forces, and suggest that the president could, not should, begin to withdraw forces in the vaguely defined future. The report will also urge more diplomatic initiatives to secure Iraq and the region.
Persuading Bush to listen—and to change course, even at the margins—will be very difficult.
One of the myths that the Bush camp has tried to perpetuate over the years is that the president follows the model, learned as a student at Harvard Business School, of a chief executive who delegates, listens to advice and only then decides. Bush is the "decider," as he calls himself, but there is little evidence that he listens to advice that he doesn't want to hear.
It may be that the last really serious call for a midcourse correction heeded by George W. Bush was the hangover he experienced at Colorado's Broadmoor Hotel one morning in the summer of 1986, when he decided to quit drinking—a decision that put him on the path to the presidency. That was indeed a momentous example of evaluating options and choosing to change, but it happened two decades ago.
People who know Bush well say, as one presidential friend put it to NEWSWEEK, that he "realizes that the disappointments on the ground in Iraq—not just the election—require new thinking." (The source spoke anonymously for fear of alienating Bush.)
The tone of Bush's senior aides, who were interviewed this week by news-week, was dismissive, even condescending, toward Baker and the Iraq Study Group.
The word from the White House was not entirely Stay the Course, but pretty close.
The Iraq Study Group is just one of three ongoing reviews of Iraq policy, say the Bush aides, and not the most important one at that. Bush is also hearing from his Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as a team under Hadley. Bush may trim and fiddle here and there, say his advisers, but he is determined to send a signal of unwavering determination—that he is in charge, and he will not abandon Iraq.
Bush's reluctance to change course—Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard editor, calls Bush "the last neocon in power"—may come as a disappointment to voters who thought they were sending the president a message last Election Day.
Bush seems determined to play the role of a 21st-century Winston Churchill, steadfast in the West's darkest hour, when many Americans see Bush as the captain on the bridge of the Titanic.
But in fact the dire situation in Iraq—and the reality that there are no magical fixes—may push the president into listening to Baker and other advisers, if only for a moment, and then maybe with only half an ear. At least that is what Baker, according to those who know him, is hoping and maneuvering for—a chance to get his foot in the door of the Oval Office, to make one last pass at getting Bush to make an attempt at true diplomacy in the Middle East.
Bush may have dismissed talk of a "graceful exit," but Baker, who knows something about getting out of tight spots, is looking for just that. Baker realizes, however, that getting any kind of successful outcome will take a great deal of diplomacy on many fronts, starting with his long but somewhat cool relationship with the president of the United States.
According to friends familiar with his thinking, Baker realizes that his panel's report could wind up just sitting on a shelf somewhere. But he wants a shot at sitting down with the president—at getting Bush to ponder new approaches to keeping Iraq, and possibly the entire Middle East, from disintegrating even further.
The odds for "victory" in Iraq, whatever that means, are long. The star-crossed country first conceived on the back of a British imperialist's envelope 80 years ago seems fated to consume itself in sectarian blood-letting. But the debate roiling in Washington is not just for show. It represents a basic clash of approaches to getting out of the worst American mess since Vietnam. No one wants to say it, but the real question is whether the United States can manage to be defeated in Iraq in a way that does not lead to worse disasters in the region—or another terrorist attack at home.The Iraq Study Group report has been written with the sort of high-minded generalities needed to achieve consensus among strong-minded Republicans and Democrats. It will not demand an international peace conference on the future of the Middle East or insist that the Unites States pressure Israel to restart the vexed peace process with the Palestinians.
Baker starts from the premise that none of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, want Iraq to dissolve into the kind of bloody chaos that can spread through the region, pitting Sunnis against Shiites and faction against faction.
He has also been a longtime believer that the best way for the United States to establish credibility in the Arab world—and in Europe, for that matter—is to get serious about the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
As Bush 41's secretary of State, Baker was willing to lean on the Israelis to try to make peace with the Palestinians by forgoing the establishment of settlements on the West Bank. Under pressure from Israel's friends in Congress, Bush 41's team backed off. But Baker's own desire to use the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a key to defusing the wider animosities in the region is well known.
It is not out of the question that Bush 43 will be brought around by the so-called Realists.
Fantasies of a liberal democracy in Iraq are long gone.
The most Bush can reasonably hope for in Iraq is some measure of stability, which is what the Realists want, too.
Bush's situation—and petulant tone—are not unlike Lyndon Johnson's in 1968, when the Vietnam War was getting no better, despite troop levels' reaching a half-million men and a heavy bombing campaign. Johnson's new secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford, was a clever fixer/statesman, just like Baker. Johnson ranted to his advisers, "Let's get one thing clear! I'm telling you now that I'm not going to stop the bombing!" (Bush last week: "There's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.")
He leave it to President Hilary Clinton to order the ungraceful exit from Iraq, and all the nightmares and fury and dismay that is likely to follow.
After all, it's not like President Bush started this war. So why should it be up to him to end it?
It's far easier to do what he has done best, for most of his life : Blame Somebody Else for his spectacular failures, and let them cope with the appalling fallout that results.