The Iraq report

Its real significance. Plus, Patrick’s disconcerting moves.
By EDITORIAL  |  December 13, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report, chaired by Republican James A. Baker, a former secretary of state, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, a former congressman, is — to put it mildly — an imperfect document. Its failure to recognize that Iraq is now, and has been for some time, engulfed in a viciously cannibalistic civil war is, by way of example, the most obvious of its many shortcomings. But the report’s very existence is more important than any of its recommendations.

President Bush’s authoritarian regime shares with all repressive and totalitarian governments a nasty and pernicious tendency: a penchant for denying reality, for manufacturing its own version of truth with callous disregard for facts, and for projecting fantasies and calling them history. The bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report makes the administration’s jack-boot intellectual behavior not only much harder to pull off, but infinitely more difficult to execute with credibility.

With only one in four Americans approving of Bush’s performance in Iraq, his credibility is shattered, though he still maintains a fair share of political legitimacy. A recent Pew Foundation study found that while opposition to the war is strong and growing, the variety of opinion as to what should be done and what timetable should be followed is exceedingly diverse and nuanced. The hard core of Republicans and conservatives who want to stay the course is more or less equal to the hard core of Democrats and liberals who want out now. The 60 percent in the middle worry about everything from the safety of our ground forces during a pullout to the wildly open-ended question of what the ensuing power vacuum would do to stability in the Middle East and the world. In the weeks and months to come, the Iraq Study Group Report will provide constant and hard-to-deny reminders that something must be done. So weary of Bush’s war are so many of us, that we fail to remember this was an impossible consensus just a year ago.

The Baker-Hamilton group represents a revolt of the nation’s ruling elite, a condemnation by the establishment of the failed radical-Republican foreign-policy agenda. It’s another nail in Bush’s coffin. But more important, it makes the case for legitimate opposition to the war. There was nothing like it when America struggled to find a way out of Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson did convene a comparable group of so-called wise men, establishmentarians who counseled ending the Vietnam quagmire. But that group met behind closed doors. In an effort to help Johnson save face, his council shortchanged the public. And by failing to legitimize opposition, it laid the foundation for Richard Nixon’s 1968 election victory on a platform for a “secret” plan to end the war. The big secret, however, was that Nixon had no plan. Vietnam dragged on for so long that the nation still has scars from the domestic strife that ensued. If little else, the Iraq Study Group Report makes clear that there is nothing un-American or subversive about opposing continued involvement in Iraq. Opposition no longer means that critics are terrorist friendly or do not care about our beleaguered troops.

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