The Report Everybody Hates

". . . I'm glad they got a study group together, but you know what? The test was three years ago."

--Jon Stewart
The thing I find the most promising about the Iraq Study Group report is this:

Nobody seems very happy with it.

Opponents of the war have noted that the commission failed to include any voices who opposed the war from the start, and that the report in turn fails to boil down to a framework for immediate redeployment, or something like it. They note that the report describes a state of affairs in Iraq which is far more disastrous than the mainstream media or political discussion has contemplated -- then they attack the report for not concluding that it's time to cut our losses and get our troops out of harm's way, period. They dismiss the report as providing political cover for a set of cosmetic reforms intended to reassure Americans enough that the war can be prolonged.

Then we have the hawks. Oh, those delightful hawks. They see the report's description of the horrific situation in Iraq and dismiss it as more liberal propaganda, paving the way for withdrawal. They hope and pray that the administration will refuse to listen to the commission's recommendation that we engage Iraq's neighbors to find a path to stability in Iraq. They're furious at the mere suggestion that we should work towards anything but the ill-defined thing they call "victory" -- which might be described as peace through attrition -- no matter how much devastation that means to Iraq, our national reputation, and our troops.

In other words, commentators on both sides of the debate are bemoaning its failure to jibe completely with their own thoughts.

This is extremely promising.

Because here's the thing: The report is not a piece of legislation. It is not a policy. It is not a thing that can be directly implemented. It is a set of data and recommendations. It does not exist to make anybody happy or unhappy, to advance a philosophy, or to constitute a narrative. It exists to provide exposition, to inform decisions, and to provide advice on how those decisions should be approached.

This type of report is produced constantly by every major organization that hopes to keep existing in any marginally competitive environment. Of course, most are not as anticipated as this one. Most are not as publicized as this one. Most are not commissioned by major political players to help bail out an American administration that has mired the most powerful country on the planet in an agonizing war with no clear path to even a neutral outcome, let alone a positive one.

All of those things set this report apart from others of its type. However, the one thing that makes this report extraordinary is that the Pentagon didn't write it. The Pentagon certainly could have written it -- and classified it, and made sure that nobody outside the senior American military/diplomatic apparatus ever set eyes on it -- but instead a bunch of withered dignitaries had to compile the thing and practically beg the President of the United States to give it some consideration. That is what makes this whole spectacle -- what some are (only half-jokingly) calling an "intervention" -- so remarkable.

This is the American political establishment stepping in, in an attempt to change the course of an administration blinded by its own ideology and propaganda. This is damage control, of a proportion that can only be made necessary by the vastness of American power and influence in the world.

I am, to put it mildly, not a fan of the political establishment. They tend to fancy themselves the royalty of America, making the strategic and geopolitical decisions while we scurry about, living our little lives and thinking we have a voice. But like the commoner and the monarch, no matter how much we might find in each other to despise, this is our country, and our fates are intertwined with that of the thing we call America. They understand the potential for long-term damage if the situation is allowed to keep deteriorating the way it has. And so, finally, they have no choice but to intervene. They want to ensure that they are left with a country worth ruling, in two years, ten years, and fifty.

Will it work? Perhaps not perceptibly. Nobody expects Bush to come clean, beg forgiveness, and try to use the rest of his days in office to set things right. He will continue to babble and stammer and spout inanities, while Cheney continues to push the megalomaniacal agenda that has brought us to this point. Barring some extremely outrageous revelations, there is no chance of either man being removed from office before January 2009 against his will.

Still, progress has been made. The man who should have, but didn't, let the Pentagon write this report -- Donald Rumsfeld -- has stepped down. An establishment careerist has been installed in his place. This means that Cheney's influence on policy is diminished greatly. While Robert Gates is certainly no angel, he knows where his loyalty lies, and it is not to the Vice President. And Gates goes into the Pentagon armed with a stark assessment of the situation in Iraq, an assessment which is not rendered useless by the taint of Rumsfeldian and Cheneysian corruption that has seeped into the senior military and intelligence apparatus over the last several years. The ISG report was written for Robert Gates, to save him the monstrous task of sorting through the mess his predecessor has left behind, to help him get a grip on the war he is now responsible for saving.

No longer will the voices of the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense speak in unison of a plan which is bound to succeed, never mind the details. "The Decider" will now have to decide whether to enforce Cheney's failed agenda, or let Gates do his job. This won't be an easy decision, to be sure, but all indications are that at least one of his most trusted advisors, Condi Rice, will advocate for the establishment position, which in turn will let her attempt to do her job as Secretary of State.

In short, the discussions inside the White House are about to become a lot more complicated. And interesting. And, we can hope, productive.

At the very least, the bleeding might stop. That's something, anyway.

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