Friday, March 17, 2006

Iraq I: A Task With Force?

There's big news out of Washington this week regarding the war that pretty much flew under the media radar amidst the sectarian violence and new U.S. air offensive -- the formation of a task force to examine U.S. policy in Iraq that includes some big names who have been lukewarm toward or even opposed to the war.

Goverment task forces have a way of coming and going without leaving a wake, but this one may be different because it offers cover for a president with a discredited war policy who is desperate to extricate himself from a bloody mess of his own making without appearing to concede ground to his more vocal opponents.

It's called saving face.

The 10-member Iraq Study Group (ISG), formed at the urging of a resitive Republican majority in Congress, will examine alternatives for the U.S. policy at a time when there has been plummeting support for the conflict.

It's called covering your re-election ass.

The ISG will be headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat.

The choice of Baker is notable in that he is the closest friend of the president's father and has shared the elder Bush's view -- although very much in private -- that the entire Iraq endeavor was foolhardy.

Hamilton was the vice chair of the 9/11 Commission. Other ISG members include former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani; Washington lawyer and businessman Vernon Jordan; former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta; former Secretary of Defense William Perry; and former U.S. Sens. Charles Robb and Alan Simpson.

Baker said the panel will offer

An honest assessment of where we are and now we go forward and take this out of politics. . . . We have no illusion whatsoever about the difficulty of this task.
Baker's comment regarding politics is disingenuous, but he is otherwise candid.

I call it hopeful.


Ex-pat Kanan Makiya was one of the first Iraqis flown into Baghdad at the outset of the invasion by the Bush administration. He saw the decision-making process of the war close up and felt that many administration officials had good intentions. However, he says that:

You either do an occupation and you do it well, or you don't do it in the first place. But you don't do it in a half-assed way, with inadequate troop levels to boot! The United States government never deployed enough troops. It opted for an occupation but didn't provide the wherewithal to do the job properly. Here again is this tension between the Pentagon and the Department of State. State wants an occupation, but Rumsfeld — who has theories about how to conduct warfare in the modern age with less and less troops — never wanted an occupation. In fact, he may never even have been for Iraqi democratisation. He was just an in-and-out kind of a guy. It was the other people within the defence department, in particularly the really extraordinary figure of Paul Wolfowitz, who argued the political case for democracy.

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