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Iraq panel's real agenda: damage control

The Iraq Study Group's makeup gives away its true purpose.

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Even as Washington waits with bated breath for the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to release its findings, the rest of us should see this gambit for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the larger questions raised by America's failure in Iraq and to shore up the authority of the foreign policy establishment that steered the United States into this quagmire. This ostentatiously bipartisan panel of Wise Men (and one woman) can't really be searching for truth. It is engaged in damage control.

Their purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things – now go back to holiday shopping.

The group's composition gives the game away. Chaired by James Baker, the famed political operative and former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, former congressman and fixture on various blue-ribbon commissions, it contains no one who could be even remotely described as entertaining unorthodox opinions or maverick tendencies.

Instead, it consists of Beltway luminaries such as retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and lobbyist Vernon Jordan. No member is now an elected official. Neither do its ranks include any Iraq war veterans, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq, or anyone identified with the antiwar movement. None possesses specialized knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.

Charging this crowd with assessing the Iraq war is like convening a committee of Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the church's clergy sex-abuse scandal. Even without explicit instructions, the group's members know which questions not to ask and which remedies not to advance. Sadly, the average Catholic's traditional deference to the church hierarchy finds its counterpart in the average American's deference to "experts" when it comes to foreign policy. The ISG exemplifies the result: a befuddled, but essentially passive-electorate looks for guidance to a small group of unelected insiders reflecting a narrow range of views and operating largely behind closed doors.

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