10.12.06

Frank Rich on the ISG: The Sunshine Boys Can’t Save Iraq

Welcome to Pottersville: The Sunshine Boys Can’t Save Iraq:

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. The tip-off to the cynical game can be found in a single sentence: “We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: ‘an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.’ ” This studious group knows that even that modest goal, a radical devaluation of the administration’s ambition to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, has long been proven a mirage. The Iraqi government’s ability to defend anything is so inoperative that the group’s members visited the country but once, with just one (Chuck Robb) daring to leave the Green Zone. The Bush-Maliki rendezvous 10 days ago was at the Four Seasons hotel in Amman.

The only recommendations that might alter that reality, however evanescently, come not from “The Way Forward” but from its critics on the right who want significantly more troops and no withdrawal timetables whatsoever. But a Pentagon review leaked to The Washington Post three weeks ago estimates that a true counterinsurgency campaign would “require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police,” not the 20,000 or so envisioned as a short-term booster shot by John McCain.

Since these troops don’t exist and there is no public support in either America or Iraq for mobilizing them, the president can’t satisfy the hawks even if he chooses to do so. Since he’s also dead set against a prompt withdrawal, we already know what his policy will be, no matter how many “reviews” he conducts. He 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.

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