Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Great Moments in Modern Punditry

David Ignatius, June 2006.

A key part of the Bush administration's strategy is to involve Maliki's government in discussions about withdrawal of U.S. troops. Gen. Casey briefed the Pentagon last week on his hopes to cut the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq by more than half by the end of 2007, according to a story in Sunday's New York Times. Casey will soon meet with Maliki to form the joint U.S.-Iraqi committee that can oversee the buildup of Iraqi security forces and the corresponding drawdown of U.S. troops.

"When we establish that committee," Khalilzad explained, "the subject will be the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the conditions related to a road map for an ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops." He stressed, however, that there was no automatic timetable for withdrawal and that he expected Maliki "will be on the cautious side."

Well, that didn't happen.

A bit later (August 2006), in a piece entitled "Iraq: Still Worth Some Waiting."

I don't feel quite so optimistic, but I think Abizaid is right in urging a sensible, deliberate policy to reduce the American presence -- as opposed to a pell-mell rush for the exit. The situation in Iraq is difficult, but the sense of panic in the Washington debate just doesn't match the situation here. It's bad, but it's not hurtling out of control.

Americans should be worried about Iraq but not so much that they take rash actions that would end up hurting American interests in the Middle East at a delicate time. We'll be out of Iraq, one way or another, over the next few years. Rushing the process because of American impatience would make a bad situation even worse.

December ("Baker-Hamilton does its job"):

The Iraq Study Group's report achieved the goal of any blue-ribbon commission: It stated the obvious, emphatically.

"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." Of various proposals for fixing Iraq, "all have flaws." A "precipitate" withdrawal would be a mistake, but so would a big increase in U.S. troops. America should set "milestones" for the Iraqi government to control all provinces by next September. The U.S. military should shift to a training and advising mission so that most American troops can leave by early 2008. But there is no "magic formula," and even if this approach fails, the United States "should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq."

A cynic might argue that this laundry list is precisely what the Bush administration was moving toward in its own internal review of policy. But I think that's the point about the bipartisan commission headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and ex-representative Lee H. Hamilton. They have stamped an interwoven "D" and "R" on recommendations that seem so familiar you wonder why they haven't been official policy all along. (Some of them have been, though you wouldn't have known it from President Bush's bluff and bluster.)

More recently, July 2007:
Extricating the United States safely from Iraq will be difficult under the best of circumstances. But it will be impossible if the necessary bargaining takes place against a backdrop of continual congressional demands for a faster withdrawal. In that situation, the Qomis and Sadrs will take the admonitions from Crocker and Petraeus as just so much hot air -- and a bad situation will get even worse. Why should they listen to us today if we will be gone tomorrow?

You get the idea...