A snip with more here:
In America we like quick fixes, closure and an uplifting show. Such were the high hopes for the Iraq Study Group, and on one of the three it delivered.
The report of the 10 Washington elders was rolled out like a heartwarming Hollywood holiday release. There was a feel-good title, “The Way Forward,” unfortunately chosen as well by Ford Motor to promote its last-ditch plan to stave off bankruptcy. There was a months-long buildup, with titillating sneak previews to whip up anticipation. There was the gala publicity tour on opening day, starting with a President Bush cameo timed for morning television and building to a “Sunshine Boys” curtain call by James Baker and Lee Hamilton on “Larry King Live.”
The wizard behind it all was the public relations giant Edelman, which has lately been recruited by Wal-Mart to put down the populist insurgency threatening its bottom line. Edelman’s vice chairman is Michael Deaver, the imagineer extraordinaire of the Reagan presidency, and “The Way Forward” had a nostalgic dash of that old Morning-in-America vibe. In The Washington Post, David Broder gushingly quoted one member of the group, Alan Simpson, musing that “immigration, Social Security and all those other things that have been hung up for so long” might benefit from similar ex-officio bipartisanship. Only in Washington could an unelected panel of retirees pass for public-policy Viagra.
Mr. Simpson notwithstanding, the former senator who most comes to mind is Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. In the early 1990’s he famously coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to describe the erosion of civic standards for what constitutes criminal behavior. In 2006, our governmental ailment is defining reality down. “The Way Forward” is its apotheosis.
This syndrome begins at the top, with the president, who has cut and run from reality in Iraq for nearly four years. His case is extreme but hardly unique. Take Robert Gates, the next defense secretary, who was hailed as a paragon of realism by Washington last week simply for agreeing with his Senate questioners that we’re “not winning” in Iraq. While that may be a step closer to candor than Mr. Bush’s “absolutely, we’re winning” of late October, it’s hardly the whole truth and nothing but. The actual reality is that we have lost in Iraq.
That’s what Donald Rumsfeld at long last acknowledged, between the lines, as he fled the Pentagon to make way for Mr. Gates. The most revealing passage in his parting memo listing possible options for the war was his suggestion that public expectations for success be downsized so we would “therefore not ‘lose.’ ” By putting the word lose in quotes, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed his hand: the administration must not utter that L word even though lose is exactly what we’ve done. The illusion of not losing must be preserved no matter what the price in blood.
The Iraq Study Group takes a similarly disingenuous tack. Its account of how the country Mr. Bush called a “grave and gathering danger” in September 2002 has devolved into a “grave and deteriorating” catastrophe today is unsparing and accurate. But everyone except the president knew this already, and that patina of realism evaporates once the report moves from diagnosis to prescription.
Its recommendations are bogus because the few that have any teeth are completely unattainable. Of course, it would be fantastic if additional Iraqi troops would stand up en masse after an infusion of new American military advisers. And if reconciliation among the country’s warring ethnicities could be mandated on a tight schedule. And if the Bush White House could be persuaded to persuade Iran and Syria to “influence events” for America’s benefit. It would also be nice if we could all break the bank in Vegas.
The group’s coulda-woulda recommendations are either nonstarters, equivocations (it endorses withdrawal of combat troops by 2008 but is averse to timelines) or contradictions of its own findings of fact.