Wednesday, December 06, 2006

silver linings

the iraq study group report is here.

i gotta disagree with atrios on this. the potential good that could come from this report has nothing to do with whether its recommendations are fully implemented, it's about changing the terms of the debate. as of yesterday, the official iraq debate was over whether to shift u.s. forces around within iraq, or whether we should send even more forces there. alternative proposals that involve a drawdown of u.s. forces, have generally been presented as the ravings of a wild-eyed lunatic (even though that would make most americans wild-eyed lunatics). the entire idea gets dismissed out of hand, not worthy of consideration by the serious guardians of our political discourse.

by having a blue-ribbon commission come up with things like talking to the relevant parties in the region, avoiding open-ended commitment of troops, pledging not to establish any permanent military bases, and including the costs of the war in iraq in the normal budgetary process, lends those ideas some mainstream legitimacy. sure, some of us have been saying stuff like that forever, but because the ISG is saying it, it brings the matters out of smelly-hippy land and makes it part of the "reasonable center."

and that is a good thing. not because it increases the chances that bush will implement anything other than the bits he likes, but because it will help hold him into account for all the stuff that he doesn't do. up until now those perfectly obvious things like a "no permanent bases" pledge have been on the margins. no one is going to raise bush's refusal to make that pledge until it becomes part of the mainstream. because the ISG has been deemed "centrist" and "bipartisan" by the powers that be, that means its recommendations will be deemed to be the mainstream.

so the report is probably not perfect (from the summaries i've seen it's far from it), and bush would not implement it even if it were. but it could get people to ask the president more hard questions about iraq, it could move the terms of the debate a little closer to where it should be, and bring issues that have been ignored so far into that debate. if the terms of the debate shift, it will also affect the way that the 2008 presidential hopefuls approach the whole iraq issue. and they, not bush, are the ones who might actually get us out of this mess.