Wednesday, December 06, 2006

So... about this Iraq Study Group

I think Spencer Ackerman has this pretty much wrapped up:
There is something of an upshot to the commission, however. Even though it doesn't really propose ending the war, it will shift the Iraq debate in favor of the modalities of extrication. Welcome to 1968: everyone knows the war must end and victory is unachievable, but the will to actually withdraw in full remains unpalatable to the political class. Bush will have a very hard time recommitting the country to a chimerical "victory" in Iraq. But in the name of “responsibility,” thousands more will die, for years and years, as the situation deteriorates further. Someone, at sometime, will finally have to say "enough," and get the United States out.
The difference being that 1968 was a Presidential election year, so Nixon was able to run on his secret plan to end the war. We are two years away from a Presidential election, meaning that Bush is, as many have observed, will try to keep this war going largely so that he doesn't have to be the one to lose it.

What is interesting is that this ISG report is, point by point, a demolition of the practice, if not the theory, of Bush's foreign policy. Talking to Syria and Iran? Forcing Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians to the bargaining table? Publicly repudiating any permanent bases? More generally, the de-politicization of foreign policy? It's all a direct repudiation of the last 6 years of Bush's foreign policy, and it's the new starting point for the discussion.

Nevertheless, it still suffers from the Grand Illusion:
Still too U.S.-centric reflecting the belief that the U.S. still has the principal freedom of action and room to maneuver. It reminds me of the scene in the movie Midway when, after hearing about the plan to destroy what is left of the American fleet at Midway, Admiral Nagumo tells Admiral Yamamoto that the plan will bring success if the enemy does everything as expected. So where do we go if Syria and Iran don't want to play ball, the Palestinians don't want to negotiate with Israel (or vice versa), and the Iraqi factions don't shape up? Do we leave? Do we try to "force order"? What happens if no other actor does what we expect them to?
The primary question remaining - America's position is so low, so weak, that even pissant dictators like Assad can walk away from the table without fearing meaningful consequences. What incentives/consequences can America realistically offer/threaten in order to change behaviour?

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