Frank Rich Hits Iraq Study Group and Its ‘Bogus’ Proposals

By: E&P Staff

Don’t count New York Times columnist Frank Rich among those hailing the work of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which produced its long-awaited report this week. Among other problems: Their much-needed policy proposals for Iraq were “bogus,” he writes in his Sunday column.

Even so, other pundits have praised the new bi-partisanship and how that could get more things done in D.C. Of this Rich retorts: “Only in Washington could an unelected panel of retirees pass for public-policy Viagra.”

Rich notes (in his column available via TimesSelect) the long buildup for this “holiday release” — it could have been had a movie title such as “The Way Forward” — before the letdown.

The panel’s recommendations, he writes, “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. To take just one example: Even if we could wave a magic wand and quickly create thousands more military advisers (and Arabic-speaking ones at that), there?s no reason to believe they could build a crack Iraqi army and police force where all those who came before have failed. As the report points out, the loyalties and capabilities of the existing units are suspect as it is.

“By prescribing such placebos, the Iraq Study Group isn?t plotting a way forward but delaying the recognition of our defeat. Its real aim is to enact a charade of progress to pacify the public while Washington waits, no doubt in vain, for Mr. Bush to return to the real world.”

Rich concludes by predicting that Bush “will stay the course, with various fake-outs along the way to keep us from thinking we?ve ‘lost,’ until the whole mess is deposited in the lap of the next president.” But he adds that it is a “reckless flight from reality to suppose that the world will stand still while we dally. The Iraq Study Group?s insistence on dragging out its deliberations until after Election Day for the sake of domestic politics mocked and undermined the urgency of its own mission. Meanwhile the violence metastasized. Eleven more of our soldiers were killed on the day the group finally put on its show.”

Rich then noted the Iraq-Vietnam parallels, with President Johnson’s new Pentagon chief, Clark Clifford, ordering up a commission to study the faltering war effort in 1968: “In March, a bipartisan group of wise men (from Dean Acheson to Omar Bradley) was summoned to the White House, where it seconded the notion of disengagement.

“But there the stories of Vietnam and Iraq diverge. Those wise men, unlike the Iraq Study Group, were clear in their verdict. And that Texan president, unlike ours, paid more than lip service to changing course. He abruptly announced he would abjure re-election, restrict American bombing and entertain the idea of peace talks. But as Stanley Karnow recounts, it was already too late, after some 20,000 casualties and three years of all-out war, for an easy escape: ‘The frustrating talks were to drag on for another five years. More Americans would be killed in Vietnam than had died there previously. And the United States itself would be torn apart by the worst internal upheavals in a century.’

“The lesson in that is clear and sobering: As bad as things may seem now, they can yet become worse, and not just in Iraq. The longer we pretend that we have not lost there, the more we risk losing other wars we still may salvage, starting with Afghanistan.

“The members of the Iraq Study Group are all good Americans of proven service to their country. But to the extent that their report forestalls reality and promotes pipe dreams of one last chance for success in this fiasco, it will be remembered as just one more delusional milestone in the tragedy of our age.”

Fellow Times columnist David Brooks takes a quite different approach Sunday, with a futuristic column that opens: “In fall 2007, the United States began to withdraw troops from Iraq, and so began the Second Thirty Years? War.” Note: It ends badly.

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