The James Baker-led Iraq Study Group has found consensus around a set of policy goals, and in the best traditions of Washington DC, they have decided to leak it to the press a week prior to releasing it officially. A review of this consensus in the New York Times proves that when a group of politicians gather on any sticky policy issue, we can expect them to act like … politicians:
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel’s deliberations.
The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week. It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding.
A person who participated in the commission’s debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, “there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached.”
The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.
The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries. (A brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.) From those bases, they would still be responsible for protecting a substantial number of American troops who would remain in Iraq, including 70,000 or more American trainers, logistics experts and members of a rapid reaction force.
The “two distinct paths” show themselves rather obviously in the final result. The ISG clearly weighed the competing visions for Iraq, withdrawal and commitment, and came up with something that satisfies no one. They suggest the gradual withdrawal of American troops, but won’t say whether they should stay elsewhere in Iraq, in a neighboring country (if any would host them), or sent home altogether. The ISG wants to put pressure on Nouri al-Maliki, but apparently not by applying any specific timetables.
Will this satisfy anyone? Hardly. The Left wants an explicit withdrawal with firm timetables to prevent any dallying by the Bush administration. They do not want 70,000 American troops left in Iraq as “trainers”, nor do they want combat organizations left in the quieter regions of Iraq. Supporters of the Bush foreign policy goals in Iraq will find themselves aghast at some of the more ludicrous explicit stands of the ISG. In the only area where they climb out onto a limb, they insist on direct negotiations with the two terror-sponsoring nations in the region, Iran and Syria, to assist in the security of Iraq — the clearest case of the fox guarding the henhouse since Daladier and Chamberlain put the Sudetenland in the care of Adolf Hitler.
In the end, the ISG will turn out to be a footnote in the policy battles over Iraq. This conclusion marginalizes the panel and its members by its own lack of honest evaluation and commitment to freedom over expediency.