Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A hip-cynical view of the ISG Iraq Report

Matt Taibbi wrote writes on politics for Rolling Stone does some good political reporting. But in this article from last December on the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, he spends most of the space finding variations of phrase to say the same thing over and over again, and in the hip-cynical tone that Rolling Stone strives to affect: That Iraq Report? More of the Same Rolling Stone Online 12/06/06.

And the message is basically that the ISG report on the Iraq War was aimed at kicking the can down the road a couple of years. Here's one of the meatier variations on the theme:

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 people.

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 troops.

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.
It seems like I'm saying this a lot these days. But if the road into Iraq was paved with bad Second World War analogies, the road out will be paved part of the way with bad Vietnam War analogies.

Jim Baker would be proud of the "bipartisansship" Taibbi displays in this article. Although he's dumping on the report, we see in that quote that he's willing to make the Democrats equally irresponsible on the war as the Bush administration. And that particular kind of cynicism benefits the Republicans. Because people who like to display this kind of "been there, done that" cynicism are usually people who vote Republican. And, oddly enough, these worldly cynic wannabes can be amazingly credulous when it comes to a fantastic justification for a tax cut for the wealthy or a Wilsonianism-on-steroids pitch about bringing democracy to the Middle East via bombs, bullets and torture.

Ironically, Taibbi is more caught up in a fundamentally erroneous framework that at least some Democrats realize is a false assumption: the idea that how long the Iraq War continues is essentially exclusively an American decision.

And there's where the bad Vietnam War analogy comes in. The punditocracy and many politicians are processing the current situation as the beginning of "Vietnamization" in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson decided to begin peace talks and made his famous bombing halt.

Now, I actually enjoy thinking through historical comparisons. And it would be good, clean fun to go through the many ways that this is a bad analogy. But it's so off-base I'll settle here for saying that the enemy has a say in what happens. Our allied government in Iraq is weak, weak in the extreme actually. It's military and policie forces are little more than Shi'a partisan militias, Kurdish partisan militias (peshmerga) in the Kurdish provinces.

If the government collapses and/or the Shi'a militias turn against the Americans, the Saigon 1975 could well be the only half-plausible Vietnam War analogy left.

Assuming that the administration's early signals are implemented, there will be no regional diplomacic drive involving Iran and Syria and a real attempt to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the short run, there will be a tilt to the Shi'a parties SCIRI and Da'wa and an attempt to isolate and defeat Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, although Muqtada and his forces have so far avoided such clashes, for the most part. The idea of negotiating with the Sunni rebels will be off the table. The civil war and ethnic cleansing will continue and intesify.

If that's the direction things go, the question will not be whether Democrats or Republicans in America have more influence over policy, or whether the American civilian government is following the advice of the American military. It will be, how secure are the American supply lines and escape routes to and from Kuwait? Whether the end can be postponed for two more years would be an open question. But the enemy (enemies, really) will have a big say in the answer.

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