Thursday, December 07, 2006

Good News - There is a Group That Has Studied Iraq!

The Iraq Study Group’s report has been released. I love that name – the study groups I was a party to in college were effective in assuring a certain grade, but not through learning the subject well. Instead, it was all about making sure a significant percentage of your classmates were sitting around in a BS session, so that the average test score would stay sufficiently low. They were quite effective.

What is funny is that so much cache is given to a group in this setting. There are hundreds of people with deep knowledge of the region, hundreds more with great military knowledge, hundreds more schooled in diplomacy, but over the last 3 years they’ve all made the mistake of voicing their opinions as soloists. Now surely some of these guys share the same opinions on most things, but they apparently weren’t smart enough to figure out that a band, like the Beatles, will always trump the solo career of McCartney. They should have formed a group, say the Iraqi Study Group, and then everything would have changed.

I know this because you can take a group of people with no real claim to any military insight or know-how, with one trip under their collective belt to Iraq that never got them beyond the green zone, with no real claim to any historical knowledge of the area, and with maybe a little diplomatic experience but not that much to speak of, and when they issue a report it they all of a sudden become the agenda setters – go along with their recommendations, because these recommendations have come from great study, or else suffer the verdict of history. How it must pain Army Generals, who apparently never had it dawn on them that it might be worthwhile to study the situation, to be scooped by the noted military expert Sandra Day O’Conner, who’s studied real hard over the last few months. You gotta hate that one girl in the class that studies real hard and ruins the curve for everyone!

It’s all very comical even without considering the merits of their recommendations. It becomes downright hilarious when you consider at least one of their recommendations – to bring Iraq and Syria, the two parties with the largest vested interest in seeing Iraq become a total failure, to the bargaining table, as if these guys have been innocent observers of the chaos. Buying the stability of Iraq at the price these guys would exact is worse than an unstable Iraq, because the price would ultimately lead to Iraq being in cahoots with these losers, and an enemy of the United States.

There are contexts in which a bi-partisan panel of people may be a good thing, in that people removed from the game of political survival don’t have to cow-tow to certain interests that the active politicians have to be wary of. In such a setting, a politician gets some cover to go against his supporting lobbyists in favor of the groundswell of publicity surrounding the panel’s recommendations. Maybe some of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations fall under this category, I don’t know. I do know that despite the Democratic Congress’ pledge to enact all of those recommendations; they’ve already shelved one that the commission felt was vital to our security in order to protect the perks of seniority on different Congressional committees that will now come to them as the majority party. So maybe a panel or a commission’s recommendations can be used to bludgeon the controlling party in any given election, but it turns into a 1 trick pony.

All that said, I have two problems with any commission or panel. There seem to be two underlying assumptions, especially in this case, that to me are not so obvious: 1) that there is a better strategy going forward; and 2) that really smart people, when gotten together in a room, will reach a consensus on what that better strategy is.

I know I’ll catch hell for saying this, but maybe there is no better way forward in this war. Maybe regardless of strategy we will face the same intransigent enemies to stability in Iraq; or rather, maybe the current policies have reflected a reasonable trade-off between competing aims, and one that has a chance of being successful in the long-term. When people say we are losing the war, there is an implied definition of losing that hinges upon the trend or the current violence and insecurity in Iraq as indicative of the permanent state of affairs going forward. In some people’s minds, a war cannot be won by definition if it takes more commitment than 2 weeks of steady bombing with little risk to our troops. The current state of security is not good, and the trend is not encouraging, but my guess is that from a pure bodybag count, we’ve killed a lot more of the bad guys than we’ve sacrificed.

To say that this amounts to losing is problematic, because by that measure D-Day would be indicative of the Allied Powers losing WWII. There were a lot more American deaths on D-Day than the day before, implying a bad trend and a lack of security in Normandy, but gaining a foothold on the continent was the turning point of the war. Now, if one assumes an inexhaustible supply of the enemy in this case as compared to prior wars, no doubt we are losing. But the same assumption would lead to the same conclusion in all the wars of history, all of which typically had a clear winner, indicating an infinite reserve of enemies is a really bad assumption. Sometimes the only way to win is to stick it out against a formidable foe – they don’t always fold their tent just because they are overmatched, and in fact their only hope of victory is to become such a nuisance to us that we just wash our hands of it. That’s not us losing – there has not been any battles which have seen our men retreating. That’s us throwing in the towel. And people are entitled to their opinion over whether the costs we are paying are worth it, but it is another thing entirely to say that we are losing and that is why we should leave.

The second mistake is the ubiquitously problematic assumption that smart people will agree, and I would say that typically the left is more guilty of it, given their constant expressed desire to have a “dialogue” on the issues. Dialogue is all well and good – it helps people understand the views and perspectives of others, and so may lead to some mutual respect in the face of differing opinions – but it rarely changes anyone’s opinion. Most of what passes for “dialogue” in politics is not one’s espousing his own view, but instead speculating on the morally specious motivation for the opposing view. That doesn’t tend to lead to mutual respect. But the left wants dialogue due to 2 big errors on its part: 1) it assumes it is smarter or more informed than the right; 2) it assumes that all smart people, or those willing to be educated by their betters, will eventually agree. It follows that people who constantly want a dialogue think that it will produce a consensus supporting their view. But smart people are more likely to disagree, making “dialogue” more or less pointless as a tool for building consensus.

So now you throw together a couple of smart people from both sides of the aisle, and we get a consensus report. Odds are that every single individual member of that panel would have written a far different report if submitting their individual opinions. So what you have is a fake consensus; maybe some would say that it should rather be interpreted as political compromise that, because it came from a bi-partisan group, provides a reasonable set of political compromises as regards the way forward. But even if you interpret it in that light, you’ll face an even worse problem a few months down the line, when events on the ground are likely to have changed from 100 unforeseen contingencies, making the recommendations of our esteemed study group worth nothing. At that point in time, you can’t freeze the picture, have 10 people reconvened to study the matter, come up with a solution, and move forward on it. You have to react. That’s why we have an Executive branch – it is not meant to be a debating club – it’s meant to enact and enforce the laws and the policies of the land. This is not a decision over whether to increase the minimum wage.


Anonymous Jim O said...

aaIf the executive branch is meant to react and respond to changes in the situation as they happen...why has the executive branch NOT reacted or responded to changes? Are all of those generals left-leaning bleeding hearts that just want our forces home, regardless of the future cost? Are they out-moded dinosuars that don't realize that we can win this thing with only 150,000 troops? Why has there been NO CHANGE in the executive policy, regardless of the voices begging for change? Cause now we have to deal with Iran and Syria, cause people are so pissed at the lack of vision that they have swung to the opposite end of the political pendulum, and now Iraq is going to burn when we withdraw.

They say that Pride goeth before a Fall, but in this case, I think it's the few peace-loving people of Iraq (and Iran and Syria, now that their repressive governments will be emboldened by their expanded influence in the area)that are going to pay the price for our executive hubris. And if it bites us on the ass again, it's no one's fault but our own. Cause we are to stupid to elect officials with vision and mental dexterity.

And now we have to do things the way the democrats want to do them. Way to go, neo-cons. You're doin a heck of job.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is little known that I was originally a member of the Iraq Study Group. I suggested the best way to win the war was to air drop massive amounts of Chartreuse in known insurgent areas. Let's face it, no one wants to plant an IED with a Chartreuse buzz.

My reccomdedation was not accepted and I was not invited back. But I do think Sandra Dey dug me.

4:35 AM  

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