Fahrenheit ISG: Coup d'etat
Though the specific policy recommendations of the Iraq Study Group may disappoint, the Group does target the root of the Iraq problem: the power of President Bush. Sunday morning pundits and impassioned bloggers advocating timelines and redeployment benchmarks are just conversation as long as our troops are at the mercy of a Commander-in-Chief who appears to be insane. The ISG is not about policy. It is an intervention.
ISG's proposals are studiously designed to isolate Bush, to highlight and tweak his mental illness. Surrounded by a diverse alignment of extremists and centrists, icons of the Reagan-Bush and Clinton 'Wonder Years', the President is put to the test: is he irrational? If he rejects even these lukewarm, unanimous, bipartisan proposals--plans so generic/neutered that even Ed Meese and Vernon Jordan can agree--he proves that he is not just wrong, but unsound. And yet the proposals are aimed right at the President's 'issues'--particularly Iran. ISG is practically begging Bush to flip out and reject their report, to show to the country he is unfit for office.
The next step: consensus among the establishment--in the Congress, among business leaders, in the Pentagon, the White House Staff and in the Bush family--that the President is ill and must be removed from power. We may be witnessing a coup d'etat.
I don't think impeachment is in the winds, rather a quiet in-house understanding where Bush gets the word: You're not really President anymore. Bush would serve out his term as a null object.
Going back to Bush 41's nomination of Quayle as Vice President, it's clear the Reagan-Bush leadership team believed the country could function under a 'No-President'. It was 41's job to oversee the dissolution of the Soviet empire and finalize America's Cold War victory; obviously, Quayle would screw it up. In the event of succession, the plan had to be that Quayle would just sit in the Oval Office looking pretty while Baker, Scowcroft, Cheney et al ran the country. Baker's plan now is to surround the President, shake him back to sanity if possible. If not, the 'Quayle Contingency Plan' goes into effect. If W. won't go along, they'll take the next step, and the next, if necessary.
Don't be fooled by the patrician soft-shoe. In his day, Jim Baker could wink and destroy a nation. His comments about Iran reveal his tactical style. Baker expects Iran might reject moderation. If they do, he'll use to international conference to expose and embarrass them. That's how Baker works, and he's got the same plan for Bush. Agree or be exposed as a lunatic. Note that Baker knows Bush is psychologically incapable of talking with Iran.
(White House nincompoop Dan Bartlett argues back, 'we tried talking to Iran and Syria. They say one thing and do another.' They say one thing and do another? (At this point, I climb to the top of the Swiss Alps and let out the loudest, longest "Duh!!!!!!" I can muster.) Imagine what this sounds like to any corporate attorney or Republican CEO, used to tough, backstabbing negotiations. The White House staff sound like little children. Is this the 'My Pet Goat' school of international diplomacy? Can you see these twits at Yalta?)
Echoing his ballyhooed Gulf War coalition, the planetary alignment Baker has orchestrated reminds Americans what diplomatic skill looks like. Just look at the cred:
Day O'Connor, an icon of wisdom, historic Reagan appointee, the most powerful woman in the nation's history, an expert on governmental structure (qualified to critique the Iraqi Constitution), perhaps the most respected person in the country--and the decisive swing vote in Bush vs. Gore.
James Baker, an establishment icon of American foreign policy success, architect of two Reagan landslides, a hard-core partisan who lead the Republican attack team in Bush vs. Gore, now all his guns trained on the President.
Ed Meese, an icon of right wing extremism. Do you remember this guy? He made Ashcroft look like a hippie. Three Reaganite titans aligned with Clinton a-listers, not for conservatism or liberalism, but clinical sanity. What a show!
It doesn't stop there. Eagleburger, yet another Desert Storm superstar with knockout foreign policy cred dating back to Nixon, has already used the I word. The guy can hardly walk! He gets up out of his wheelchair and says to the cameras, "My country is in trouble." What a show!
Hillary Clinton got in on the act during her 'wink-wink' questioning of Robert Gates before the Armed Services Committee. Clinton kissed up to Gates (a former ISG member), instead using her time to draw a Socratic bead on the President:
Clinton: Is the President an intelligent man?
Clinton: Is he a patriot?
Clinton: Does he think his actions are in the national interest?
Well, if he's not an idiot and he's not a traitor, he's not a double agent for Al Queada and he's not motivated by greed, the only explanation left for his refusal to change course is that, for some weird psychological reason, he just can't.
I think that's the key: at this point, it's not about which alternative policy is best (immediate withdrawal, timelines, benchmarks, whatever). It's about the C-in-C's inability to consider any of these options because he is mentally unsound. The clear subtext of the Clinton-Gates exchange and ISG is 'we have to do something about the President'.
ISG reads like to me like medical authorization for the civil commitment of the President of the U.S. Now, Cheney, that's another question.
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Back when I first learned to play chess, I played against a guy who underestimated me--talking down to me, giving me pointers in the middle of our match. While he talked, I moved into position to fork his rook and Queen (attacking both pieces simultaneously, making him choose which piece to defend, losing the other). For some weird psychological reason, the guy chose to defend his rook, giving up his Queen, the far more valuable piece. After that, I quickly checkmated him.
Why did the guy let me take his Queen? I hadn't actually captured his Queen, I had captured his rook. But in his mind, he wanted to pretend that I hadn't captured his rook. So he kept his rook--and gave me his Queen and the game. This was absolutely stupid psychological nonsense--his way of denying the reality that he had lost. But that was just a chess game in the park. Incredibly, President Bush is behaving the same way with the nation's security at stake.
The facts of life in Iraq are this: WMD has lost his battle of wits against Iran. They baited him into Iraq with false intelligence, used our army to destroy their enemy Saddam, then seized the opportunity to accelerate their nuclear program while America was stuck in a military and diplomatic quagmire. They will emerge with greater influence in Iraq and the region, and they may become a nuclear power. Baker wants to say "Well played! Now let's clean up this mess in everyone's interest." But WMD has to accept that the Iranians outsmarted him--or he can pretend chaos in Iraq and regional war is a better result for American security than the fait accompli of an Iranian strategic win. Like my silly chess opponent, he would rather do even greater harm to American security than admit his personal defeat by Iran: this is weird, psychological garbage.