Merry Christmas, G. Bush
I expect you are all getting sick of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group report by now. Well, if it is any consolation that is exactly what Bush and his Administration want you to do. Since its release on December 6, the weaknesses and biases of the ISG report have been out there for all to see and comment on. It has been out less than a week and it already risks slipping into oblivion. Several factors have conspired to this end.
The report was originally slated for release to coincide with the seating of the new Congress in January. This would have put it in the spotlight early and it was hoped keep it there. Events on the ground in Iraq did not cooperate with this timing. Violence was spiraling out of control so fast that there was a real fear that the report would be irrelevant (a charge that has been leveled against it anyway) even before it became public.
The November elections didn't help matters. In the days before them, Baker and Hamilton had been making the rounds of the media political talk circuit. Despite a lot of hinting that their report was going to have something Big to say about Iraq, these appearances were generally uninformative. Given the timing, they seemed to be signaling to the American electorate that the grownups were back in charge, they were going to take care of Iraq, and that therefore it was still safe to vote Republican. When the election results came in and the size of the Democratic victory was clear, the ISG had the choice of trying to catch the wave of popular discontent or watch it as it left them behind. As a result, the date of the report's release was moved forward to December 6.
This would get the report out in the one week that Congress was in session before the end of the year. The presentation, the news conference, the appearance before Congress, the nightly news shows, the Sunday talk shows, all came and went. Meanwhile, Bush wiggled and waffled. He deferred and demurred. He would think about it. He would pick and choose. He would listen to other reports (that he had ordered and which were under his control). He would get back to them and the American people later.
Bush's goal is to dissipate the impact of the report. He is aided in this by the fact that while the timing of the report's release was the best that could be expected under the circumstances, it still was not very good. Yes, the Congress was in session, but not for long, and it was the last gasp of a lame duck and largely discredited Congress at that. Worse, the political doldrums of Christmas and New Year's are upon us. That's a month, an age in politics, that Americans have to forget this report.
The carnage and chaos of Iraq will go on. Bush has promised his own "thoughts" on Iraq to be delivered while we are otherwise engaged, no doubt somewhere between the eggnog and the ball falling in Times Square. He is already stealing the report's thunder by his much publicized series of consultations. Why he has waited 3 1/2 years to do so is a question that should be asked each and every day but won't be. Bush wants us to be sleepy and happy, and forgetful.
This gets to one of the reasons I love the Net. However much Bush may wish us to forget, it is in the very nature of the blogosphere not to. For all its flaws, the ISG report has put an official seal on the need for there to be real change in our Iraq policy and not just a change in Bush's rhetoric on it. However imperfect and convoluted the ISG's recommendations are, its underlying message is one of withdrawal, whether Iraq meets the stated goals or not. We must not let Bush blur this central point, a point that is shared not just by the ISG but 70% of the American people. We must not let Bush get away with it. We must remember.