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The Iraq Commission Report

The commission report on Iraq is worth talking about.

Here it is:

Update: Here are the key recommendations: This site turns out to be very summary and doesn't really reflect the full range of the commission's recommendations.

Over-all there are 79 recommendation on pages 43-96 of the report (first site above). They show an impressive amount of interviewing, analyzing and thinking. Whether or not the commission succeeds in altering course, its work is informative and bracing.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I heard Sandra Day O'Connor and Charles Robb on "Talk of the Nation" ( this afternoon. It was noted that one of Bush's original goals was to make Iraq a model of democracy in the Middle East, thus moving the region toward the enthusiastic adoption of Western style democracy. That wasn't one of the goals the study group's recommendations seemed to be aiming at. When asked about it, O'Connor said very diplomatically that the group had taken as its guidelines the president's more recently stated goals.If I understand the recommendations correctly, Iran and Syria might be tapped to try to help pull Iraq out of current chaos. The study group has said it believes those nations would be willing to help, since they gain nothing from the current chaos in the region.That's going to be a bit of PR coup for them, no?

I've only seen or heard CNN's and the Leher News Hour's reports and discussions on the ISG's report. But I've also just read Andrew Bacevich's "Twilight of the Republic?" in the Dec. 1 Commonweal. I know too little history to evaluate Bacevich's essay, but he says many things that strike me as deserving thought. If he's even partly right,then Iraq is not an isolated aberation. It's just one example of the kind of conduct one would expect from a nation animated by the "ethos" he describes.

The sad irony is the W administration does not practice democracy. A coup for this administration is quite unlikely. The blight is permanent and irreversible. They will try to put the best face on it. Not pleasant seeing the media cop out in this war. It recovered but very late. The temptation to hobnob and get info is at the heart of its corruption. Even NCR exulted too much in its coup on getting scoops from the Vatican not seeing how the Vatican succorred in John Allen in the process. Here is the prophet of our day. In clear teaching and admonition. West Point, no less. He should be pope.

The Iraq Study Report is competent and well-intentioned, but it's not really about Iraq. The underlying mission of this Council of Beltway Elders is to salvage the credibility of the American political elite -- witness all the praise for how wonderfully "bipartisan" the committee and its report are. It's worth recalling that the decision to get into this bloody mess was also wonderfully "bipartisan." Bernard rightly calls attention to Bacevich's fine article, but I'd suggest that Bacevich's recommended solution -- going back to the "fundamental ideals of the Republic" -- is exactly wrong. After all, who accelerated the Westward expansion that wiped native American tribes off the map? Wasn't it the Founders and their descendants, acting on the fundamental ideals of the Republic? If, as the Founders believed, property ownership was essential to democracy, then land had to be gotten somewhere. Bacevich never considers the possiblity that proprietary-republican ideals led inexorably to imperial ambition. Which is why, even if Bush follows the recommendations of the Beltway Elders, the U.S. will probably continue to be inherently missionary and expansionist.

Iraq has become a clear case of a damned if you do, damned if you dont intractable moral dilemma. The damned if you do part is: if the US withdraws, Iraq will probably slide deeper into the chaos of civil war, opening up the grim possibility of a wider regional conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran and heightened tensions between Israel and Palestine. The damned if you dont part is that if the US does not withdraw and instead ramps up its commitment by sending in more troops, in all likelihood the same thing will happen anyway, perhaps in a slower timeframe, perhaps not, all the while continuing to serve as a potent recruiting device for Al Qaeda. Regarding intractable moral dilemmas, Alasdair MacIntyre once concluded that they are indeed possible, but only as a result of a prior moral failure. That failure was going to Iraq in the first place. Eugene McCarraher was quite astute to remind us, now that the field of potential Democratic presidential candidates is beginning to take shape, that while this war was GWBs brainchild from the start, its ratification was strictly bipartisan. Democrats who supported this war, whether ardently or sheepishly, need to have their feet held to the fire on this. (Unfortunately, Russell Feingold has bowed out. That leaves Bernie Sanders and a handful of others, and he has just changed his job. Not encouraging.....) Bacevichs article does a nice job showing the historical roots of the American penchant for expansionist intervention. Sometimes his argument is a bit of a stretch, as when he insinuates that postwar liberal reforms were underwritten by a dynamic economy reliant on the vehement assertion of US national interests abroad. Granted, this economic dynamism served as a political and social lubricant for the left. Its always easier to make a pitch for equality and fairness when times are economically good. But prosperity is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for it.. In any event, the economic elites decided sometime in the 1970s that "general prosperity" was not for them, opting instead for their own wealth and power, fomenting class warfare operating under the cover of largely phony culture wars. Since the 80s, military and economic expansionism has been the order of the day, and under GWB no one even tried to deny it. And what we are now witnessing is the collapse of all those implacable demonstrations of will (Krauthammer) and national swagger that the neocons were so intoxicated with after 9/11. What effect will the Iraq Commission have? Very little, I suspect. It will provide Bush with some cover if he decides to follow through some on the commissions recommendations. But I suspect the quick withdrawal of troops is not on the table. That would be admitting to too big a mistake. Furthermore, whatever happens, there will always be time to spin this fiasco in the direction of We would not have lost Iraq if we did things right! Meaning: more aggressively and ruthlessly. Americans like success, and perhaps, if the boilerplate stab-in-the-back rhetoric is effectively resurrected, the common wisdom will be that what went wrong in Iraq was the execution of the war, not the very fact of our waging of it. I shudder to think what that might mean for the republic. Which leads to a question of sorts for Eugene McCarraher. Granted that a return to the fundamental ideals of the republic as expounded by the Founders is probably a bad idea, and certainly an impossible one. (I always found the American worship of the Founders perplexing, and it does them a disservice, since inflating a reputation is a fine way to avoid respecting it.) First, might there not be a tension between the proprietary and the republican elements of these ideals? The first pulls away from the public and communal, the second towards it. Perhaps a selective, critical reappraisal of America's (small-r) republican heritage is called for ( a la Hannah Arendt or John Dewey in their better moments) rather than a blanket rejection. Second, what, concretely, might the alternatives to these ideals be, realizable here and now? Relinquish possessive individualism, sure. Practice an economics of charitable restraint, sure. But these are rather abstract entreaties: what would it mean to overcome these presumably tainted ideals? And do they inexorably lead to anything like the Iraq fiaco? (I am suspicious of adverbs like "inexorably.") I think that most of those Americans who are sick of the war and what its doing still not nearly enough, though their numbers are growing are sick because they believe it is destroying the republic, rather than fulfilling its implicit destiny.

RE: the Iraq Commission: no sooner do I log off from dotCommonweal than I read this in the online NYT:..... Mr. Bush, making his first extended comments on the study, seemed to push back against two of its most fundamental recommendations: pulling back American combat brigades from Iraq over the next 15 months, and engaging in direct talks with Iran and Syria. He said he needed to be flexible and realistic in making decisions about troop movements, and he set conditions for talks with Iran and Syria that neither country was likely to accept.andMr. Bush came close to acknowledging mistakes. You wanted frankness I thought we would succeed quicker than we did, the president said to a British reporter who asked for candor. And I am disappointed by the pace of success.The pace of success?.....Again, not encouraging.....For the whole article, go to

The key (if any) to moving forward has got to be diplomatic maneuvering in the region. Again, this morning's Times has an analysis of the Baker-Rice differences on the matter. Worth a read. Iraq can talk to anyone; they don't need U.S. permission to negotiate with Iran and Syria. The Saudis have a big interest in calming things and so do Turkey and Jordan (see article on Iraqi refugees there). If these regional powers can conclude that the U.S. is incapable of either military or diplomatic leaderships, they should take on the diplomatic work themselves. They are capable people--more so I would bet than Secretary Rice.

To Mike Quirk: I do see a distinction between the "proprietary" and "republican" elements of the Founding ideology, and I do think that if one wanted to revitalize the republican aspects, Arendt, Dewey, etc. wouldn't be a bad places to start. Still, I think that even republicanism has a strong martial element (see Christopher Lasch's discussion of it in The True and Only Heaven). To put my cards on the table, I still think that, unfashionable as it is (even among allegedly "leftist" academis), some kind of fusion between democratic socialism and Catholic social teaching is still the only way to preserve what's best about the republican tradition. As for the reaction to the Baker study, I expected to be disappointed, and I have been. Saving the face of the American political elite is going to be a nasty process, as hawks like McCain and Lieberman don't want to be see as defeat-o-crats. The stupidity and incompetence of the Bush Administration is matched only by the stupidity and incompetence of Congressional hawks, which is itself probably going to be matched by the timidity of Pelosi and Co. I don't agree with Margaret that adroit diplomatic maneuvering is enough to get us out of trouble in the region. It seems to me that that's the old "if we just understood each other" approach. I think that lots of Arabs and Muslims understand us very well: we've only cared about them in so far as they've supplied us with oil and let Israel mistreat Palestinians. The latter point is especially relevant, as I don't see the Bush Administration -- or, for that matter, a putative Democratic successor -- pushing the Israelis to be a whit less oppressive in Gaza. Look at the reaction (or lack thereof) that Jimmy Carter's new book is getting.

As Christmas approaches, I recall the words of the old Judy Garland song (original lyrics:)Someday soon we'll always be together, if the fates allow;but for now, we'll have to muddle through somehow."That's what thje Baker report leaves us with - "muddling through." Already the Kurds and Shiites are pushing back hard.What's wprse, as noted here is the Great Uniter pushing back - note the brief Juan williams piece on NPR this morning.As an old manager, my first rule was never (ever) confuse your discretion with wisfdom - the levers of power with discretion are too potent.Yet that's what's happeninmg again in the executive branch which apparently continues to value loyalty to the theme over competence, (This continuing failure should also be noted at the Vatican.)Undoubtedly the outcome will fall into what happens regionally, but I can't be sanguine -the Palestinian -Israeli effort has been so cold and tepid I doubt we can accomplish much in a regional effort with the current cast of characters.

Amazing that Bush is still talking in apocalyptic terms. I guess Chaney, Neuhaus and Rice still prevail. Interesting piece about Rice in today's NYTimes. Where did she get her ideas?Salivating about "moments in history" have always been dangerous.Diplomacy can work if followed by altruism not wholly self interest. That is Christian, however.

Peggy, maybe you should start a new thread as this will be with us for awhile.Like; we see how w's forces have marhsaled the New York Post, the Wall St Journal, Russ Limbaugh et alii. W's seems too dense that the criticism is of his father also. But those Republicans who want to get elected are not buy buying since they have to face the voters. Hooray for democracy. Not perfect but the best we have.

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