As Iraq Study Group Meets, Bloggers Uniformly Cynical

Bloggers of all stripes seemed to come together to express cynicism and unease at the prospects of the commission's upcoming recommendations.

The New York Times reported this morning that the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, will meet today to discuss a diplomatic initiative calling for direct talks with Iran and Syria. While a growing number of politicians and pundits have argued that such negotiations are necessary to control Iraq’s spiraling civil war, the influential bipartisan commission’s presumed endorsement of the strategy indicates that the Bush administration will try talking to its enemies sometime soon.

Perhaps taking a cue from the purportedly apolitical panel, bloggers of all stripes seemed to come together to express uniform cynicism and unease at the prospects of the commission’s upcoming recommendations.

Writes conservative blog Outside the Beltway: “Considering that these are the same two countries that are backing Hezbollah and that Iran, especially, has to like the way things are headed in Iraq, it is far from clear why they would be interested in helping the U.S. salvage its policy.”

Over at his blog Political Animal, prominent liberal commentator Kevin Drum finds little reason to believe committee co-chairman Baker, a Republican and former secretary of state, is above the simple art of politicking.

Notes Drum: “When push comes to shove, the commission members are going to have a hard time finding a consensus because (a) at least some of them will insist on an honest analysis, but (b) Baker will be unwilling to endorse a report that President Bush is likely to reject. There’s not much middle ground there.”

Matthew Yglesias wholeheartedly agrees: “The news that the commission deliberately excluded ‘extreme’ views even though the ‘extreme’ left view has majority support is pretty maddening. The real problem, though, is that as best I can tell the commission has the wrong mandate. Rather than a group charged with finding an optimal Iraq policy for the United States of America, it’s charged with finding a formula that suits the interests of the American political establishment — of Democrats who backed the war, and of Republicans who’d like to see their political party survive the disaster of George W. Bush. So while they’d like a policy that makes things better, what they need is a policy that can [be] espoused while minimizing embarrassment to said establishment. Unfortunately, the latter goal makes the former substantially impossible.”

For more hawkish pundits, the notion of dealing with Iran or Syria in a completely non-confrontational way seems rather counterintuitive.

“No attempt to reason with Mr. Assad and the Iranian mullahs will succeed unless they perceive that the United States and its allies wield sticks as well as carrots,” says Martin Manley at Jam Side Down. “As long as the Bush administration is unable to win U.N. Security Council approval for sanctions against Iran — or impose them through an ad hoc coalition — Tehran will have no incentive to make concessions. Mr. Assad will demand that the West concede him Lebanon and call off the murder investigations that would likely implicate him — unless he worries that his failure to cooperate will result in fresh international sanctions against Syria.”

While the intense debate over America’s future in Iraq continues to embroil the blogosphere, quite a few commentators seem to have found common ground regarding the Iraq Study Group. Unfortunately, these voices cohere only in their skepticism towards a commission attempting to solve a problem that, to more and more Americans, looks beyond ours to solve. At the blog Say Anything, one pundit captures the collective malaise with a definitive conclusion.

“If this is all the Iraq Survey Group has to offer then it is a pretty disappointing, if much-hyped, effort,” writes Rob. “Diplomacy with two countries that have no interest in seeing our objectives achieved and threatened withdrawals which will only serve to embolden the terror insurgency is hardly a good plan.”

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Andrew Bielak was a CJR intern.