ISG: The Granddaddy of Armchair Quarterbacks

December 7, 2006

It’s painful to watch the Iraq Study Group (ISG) selectively invoking our Cold War policies to support their recommendation that we negotiate with our enemies. We didn’t negotiate an end to the Cold War. We kicked the Soviets’ rear end. Indeed, the very type of “realists” in charge of the ISG largely opposed Ronald Reagan’s confrontational approach toward the Soviets that enabled us to graduate from stalemate to victory.

Here are some other thoughts and questions about the vaunted ISG report (ISGR):

— The ISG seems convinced we are “perilously” close to defeat in Iraq. With this method of war scorekeeping could America have ever won a war, or will it ever again?

— Did the ISG ever seriously consider that we pursue outright victory over the terrorists, or did their initial bias preclude them from considering that option?

— Are the ISG’s recommendations based on their assumption that Iraq is not part of the overall war on terror? If so, and they are wrong — which they are — is their entire report flawed, having been primarily based on an erroneous assumption?

— The Framers understood that foreign policy must not be conducted by committee, which is why they made the president — not Congress — the singular commander in chief.

— If the ISGR serves no other purpose, it will provide excellent ammunition for Democrats and the mainstream media (MSM) to crucify President Bush to the extent he rejects its recommendations.

— In fact, if the left were primarily about ideas rather than destroying President Bush, they would be none too pleased with the ISGR for its refusal to endorse a Murthafied withdrawal. But they are willing to ignore the report’s contradictions, generalities and absence of real solutions, because they view it as a vindication of their perennial opposition to Bush.

— James Baker said, “This is the only bipartisan report for sale.” Whoop-dee-do. I agree with others that the ISG is promoting bipartisanship as an end in itself, even prioritizing it above pursuing the best policy. In a column in 2002, I attributed a similar attitude to Democrats, writing, “What [Certain Democrats] are essentially advocating is that bipartisanship be elevated to sacrosanct status, as if it were an end in itself to be pursued even above the best interests of the nation.”

— While the MSM are heralding the ISGR as the Second Coming, we should remember that ISG members are unelected and will never be held accountable for their suggestions. Some of their recommendations reflect their lack of accountability, such as that we should increase the number of U.S. troops training Iraqi forces from 3,000 or 4,000 to 10,000 to 20,000. On what hard facts are they basing a recommendation that has a 100 percent fudge factor? Plus, if we get those additional troops from combat brigades in Iraq and we’re already “perilously close to defeat,” won’t the reduction in our combat forces draw us perilously closer to defeat?

— But nowhere is the ISG’s lack of accountability better demonstrated than in its casual acknowledgment that its own proposals may not work, but we must try them anyway. Lee Hamilton said, “No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos. Yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted.” Where is it written that we must try every idea, no matter how foolish, like negotiating with nations — Iran and Syria — that are dedicated to our destruction and who are behind much of the violence and ethnic strife in Iraq?

— On that point, how can James Baker seriously argue that if Iran refuses to cooperate, we can expose it as an enemy of peace and turn the world against it? If the world — including the American left — isn’t already convinced the Iranian regime is evil, then redundant evidence will not persuade it. Even if the appeasers were temporarily disabused of their misplaced trust, all it would take to turn them back toward Ahmadinejad is another one of his “thoughtful” love letters to the American people.

— But what might even be worse is if Iran were to accept our offer, agree to negotiate, then make false promises the ISG would doubtlessly recommend we rely on.

— Why is it that the ISG bends over backward to give the benefit of every doubt to the bad guys (Iran, Syria) and goes out of its way to undercut the good guys (Israel and the Iraqi voters)?

— The ISG says we should withdraw most of our troops by early 2008. Why then? What happens if our efforts to train Iraqi troops haven’t sufficiently succeeded by then? Are we bound to withdraw then anyway since the omniscient ISG chose that arbitrary date?

— Why did President Bush shoot himself in the foot by appointing committee member Robert Gates secretary of defense?