'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Synopsis of the Iraq Study Group Report 

On Wednesday morning, I awoke in a hotel room down valley from Sacramento. I was there on work-related business, and, unlike at home, I had the full array of cable channels. I have encounters with cable news programming infrequently, and I am invariably startled by what constitutes news, and how it is manipulated. As I surfed, the political theme of the day was consistent: the Iraq Study Group report.

The coverage was designed to obscure the obvious. The authors of the report don't say anything that we haven't already been told repeatedly, make absurd policy suggestions and delay the day of reckoning until the end of the Bush presidency. Typical of some government bureaucracies, especially when confronted with a difficult problem, they ineptly concealed the lack of substance by substituting volume, as if presenting 79 proposals provides a greater chance of success than 15.

One of my friends astutely observed that the grim facial appearances and body language of the panel members spoke more candidly than the content of the report, and they spoke with one voice. As many on the left recognized a long time ago, the war in Iraq is lost. While there is an unavoidable tastelessness in the comparison, I couldn't help thinking that this is what it would have been like if Hitler had commissioned an Eastern Front Study Group in the late summer of 1943. Lots of superficially plausible ideas to avoid telling the unpalatable truth.

We can even imagine similar proposals (there is a need for more people capable of speaking Slavic languages and civilian Reich employees should be ordered to Russia as required), with an equally contentious debate, centered around, in this instance, whether negotiations should be opened with the US and Britain to bring about pan-European solution. Hard liners, invoking Goebbels' "total war" speech at the Sportspalast, insist that victory must be achieved, without defining it as an attainable objective. A careful examination of the report reveals that there was not much of an effort to solicit the opinion of Russians.

But I have begun to digress. Not only is the war lost, but the solicitation and issuance of the report is indicative of a political system in paralysis. Neither political party can acknowledge the enormity of the defeat in Iraq, and the prospect of a military catastrophe looming over the horizon. So, Bush and his Republican supporters describe the occupation within the context of a global "war on terror", whereby each suicide bomber, each militia raid and each US airstrike reflects the overall success of the operation.

Conversely, Democrats embrace the ISG report because it is consistent with their tendency to transform the occupation into a matter of effective administration so as to avoid more and more insistent public demands for withdrawal of the troops. If we could just get the stakeholders together, reach consensus, and deliver more pens, writing pads, cell phones and Blackberries to the right people, then the Iraqis will forget their hatred of the occupation. And, of course, the parties should be hastened along towards reaching consensus by making the release of funds to the Iraqi government conditional upon the completion of "benchmarks".

Hence, the carrot and stick approach commonly associated with local government planning disputes has been embraced as a means of resolving one of the most violent, intractable conflicts of our lives. Given that many congressional representatives started their careers as mayors, council members and supervisors, we shouldn't be surprised that they are reflexively falling back upon this familiar method. If done effectively, it coerces consent, thus enabling politicians to avoid being associated too strongly with any advocate. Furthermore, the disappointments of 2005 and 2006 have made the punitive aspects of this dispute resolution technique popular, if only as a way of pandering to Americans displeased with the numerous dead and wounded soldiers sent stateside every month.

Accordingly, the ISG proposals are increasingly being embued with talismanic qualities. As with the 9/11 report (yes, a report that exposed the country's political dysfunctionality as it existed prior to the invasion of Iraq), it must be adopted in its entirety. Piecemeal adoption of ISG proposals will fail. Of course, this is very convenient, as there is no chance that all of the proposals will be adopted and implemented, so it permits congressional proponents, predominately Democrats, to exploit the report for political advantage, while continuing to support the occupation as a grim necessity.

The congressional elections and the ISG report therefore expose the bankruptcy of the liberal strategy that emphasizes the need to recover power within the government, to the exclusion of social alternatives, as a means of ending the occupation of Iraq. It is a game rigged against anyone who wants to radically change the imperialistic imperatives of US foreign policy. Credibility is measured by whether there are former generals, former State Department officials and so-called "terrorism experts" willing to intellectually buttress a less interventionist philosophy, and few are willing to do so. Indeed, there is a Catch-22 here, whereby any highly respected figure who publicly advocates for such a policy loses credibility as a consequence of a a coordinated governmental and media assault.

If public pressure builds, an entity like the ISG is created, consisting of an appointed group of Wise Men and Wise Women, people who understand that it is their responsibility to put their prestige at the service of preserving the existing order. They produce a report that presents the appearance of an alternative, an appearance of political disagreement, when, in fact, they have worked assidously to ensure that US troops will remain in Iraq indefinitely. The report, as already discussed, also enables politicians to appear to oppose the occupation, while the withdrawal of US troops remains subject to the attainment of impossible goals.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis continue to resist and struggle to create a strong coalition against the US presence. As the US political system has, yet again, shown itself incapable of ending this conflict, it is left to them to do so by driving US troops out of the country. It will happen, it is only a matter of time, and the only question is how quickly they will accomplish it. One suspects that the answer will render the conclusions of the ISG report, especially in regard to the withdrawal of US troops, an embarassment. But it won't matter. It will have already served its purpose.

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