Tuesday, August 8, 2006
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James Baker's mystique and aura
The Washington Monthly runs a story by Robert Dreyfuss on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, supported by no less than four think tanks, in order to "conduct a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests."
There's not much out of the ordinary about such a congressionally-created group. However, it's a testament to the times we live in -- and Baker's reputation as the ne plus ultra of power brokers -- that Dreyfuss' entire story seems dedicated to showing why this group really, really politically significant:
Since March, Baker, backed by a team of experienced national-security hands, has been busily at work trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in--or, perhaps, to get the hell out of--Iraq. But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well. "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."....I think Dreyfuss is stretching the definition of "leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party" just a wee bit. The Democratic "bigwigs" on the commission are Vernon Jordan, Leon Panetta, William H. Perry, and Charles Robb. While Perry's an undisputed heavyweight, neither Jordan nor Panetta are thought of as foreign policy experts, and Robb is more of a light heavyweight. The Democrats might not have a deep foreign policy bench, but this commission is hardly going to lock the party into any position on Iraq come 2008.
Furthermore, it's not clear at all to me how Baker's commission can put a halt to the alleged scenario Dreyfuss lays out in the first quoted paragraph. Baker's commission is not going to be able to anything between now and the midterms, and after that, it doesn't matter what they do -- either the Democrats will be able to convene hearings or they won't. There's nothing mutually exclusive about holding investigative hearings on past decisions while supporting a commission to devise a way out of Iraq. Indeed, it might actually help Democrats who, having supported the war in the first place, now feel the need to sound more anti-war than Al Gore.
I do hope that Baker's group devises the perfect solution to the Iraq mess. This article is proof, however, that James Baker's gravitas is now so extreme that it badly distorts the reportage that surrounds him.posted by Dan on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM
Ah, yes, where I usually go for the inside scoop on the Bush White House: the Washington Monthly! Good choice, Dan. Dreyfuss doubtless has impecable sources in Bush's inner circle.
As an example of how asinine the Monthly piece is, consider the following: "And if the GOP nominee also embraces the plan, then the Iraq war would largely be off the table as a defining issue of the 2008 race--a potentially huge advantage for Republicans." Really? No. Foreign policy will be the strength of the GOP - now, in 2008, and for the forseeable future. Hell, WaMo's Kevin Drum points us to an RNC memo that says precisely the opposite of what Dreyfuss tells us. The RNC memo advises Republicans to run on the war, not away from it.
Let's remember that most Republicans don't believe the Kos kool-aid that Dreyfuss is selling (and that Dan is parroting) - that Iraq is a mess.posted by: A.S. on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
BTW - let's look at the Republican bigwigs who are on this so-called "high-powered" commission. If the Democrats on the panel aren't so big, then surely the Republicans are, right? So we've got noted foreign policy experts like...
Sandra Day O'Connor
Right. Can I just dismiss this panel right now? Yes, I can.posted by: A.S. on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
Doubtless there are some people outside of lunatic asylums who believe its perfectly natural and normal for a country to have 2 car bomb attacks a day, half a dozen IEDs, half a dozen assasinations, dozens of tortured dead bodies turning up every day, armed militias that sometimes kidnap 20-30 people in broad daylight in Baghdad (including MPs and Olympic committee heads), massive sectarian flight in neighborhoods, massive flight of the educated class to Jordan or elsewhere, criminal gangs controlling a major city (Basra), massive corruption, kidnappings, electricity shortages etc.
But I suspect most sensible Republicans dont' think that way, and realize what anyother than Victor Hansen, Hugh Hewitt and Dick Cheney know - Iraq is a huge mess.
I mean really, are you claiming that the outgoing British ambassador (who said that civil war was more likely than not) or even Generals like Pace have been drinking the Kool-Aid ?posted by: erg on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq ... setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008.
I really doubt investigations and/or impeachment attempts in '07 would lead to Democratic victories in '08. The reverse seems more likely - backlash. Hearings would be partisanized, get stalled repeatedly, and probably not end up accomplishing much. Democrats can succeed by looking ahead, not dwelling on 2003.posted by: b. phillips on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
Let's remember that most Republicans don't believe the Kos kool-aid that Dreyfuss is selling (and that Dan is parroting) - that Iraq is a mess.
Er, any country who's government is removed by force of arms is going to be a mess for some time after the event, expecting otherwise is contrary to all historical precedent.
We can debate how big the mess is, how long it will be before it ceases to be a mess, and what policies are likely to shorten or extend the duration of the mess... but the basic premise, 'Iraq is a mess', is valid. A stopped clock is still right twice a day, the same could be said of the Kossacks.
What I want to do is to concentrate on the three points I just mentioned (not the one about Kossacks), and defer the "who's fault is it" and "was it worth it" discussions until after Iraq is no longer a mess, mainly because the debate is likely to be acrimonious, non-productive, and the answers will not be clear for some time.posted by: rosignol on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
WHAT! No black hole jokes?(Bakers gravitas and all that.)posted by: flackcatcher on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
Please dont talk about who is to blame for the debacle....at least until it can be pinned on a democrat or non neo con repub...for "cutting and running" on what otherwise was a huge success. Just kick "blame" farther down the road until 2008 or better yet 2012!posted by: centrist on 08.08.06 at 12:16 PM [permalink]
Foreign policy will be the strength of the GOP - now, in 2008, and for the forseeable future.
The GOP desperately needs some sort of other strength. They're looking pretty puny on this topic, and it's only going to get worse.
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