Amid the highly charged political infighting in Washington over what to do in Iraq, you might be excused for not noticing that a bipartisan commission quietly started work last spring with a mandate to help the Bush administration rethink its policy toward the war. Of course, anything labeled "bipartisan commission" seems almost guaranteed to be ignored by a highly partisan White House that is notoriously hostile to outside advice and famously devoted to "staying the course." But what makes this particular commission hard to dismiss is that it is led by perhaps the one man who might be able to break through the tight phalanx of senior officials who advise the president and filter his information. That person is the former secretary of state, Republican insider, and consigliere of the Bush family, James A. Baker III.Can this committee change the course of the train? I doubt it with anything short of an effective coup. George W. Bush has rejected anything that his father or his father's advisers have suggested. I don't see that changing. Billmon explains this morning.
Since March, Baker, backed by a team of experienced national-security hands, has been busily at work trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in--or, perhaps, to get the hell out of--Iraq. But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well. "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."
At this point, I would say Shrub is acting like a hedgehog on hallucinogens. His one big integrative idea -- exporting American-style "democracy" to Iraq at the point of a gun -- has proven fatally, disasterously wrong, but he can't let go of it, because it's the only idea he's got. He's fully vested in it, like a '90s e-trader who decided to throw caution to the wind, empty his retirement account and bet it all on pets.com.
I think if Shrub were ever forced to let go of his vision, his one big idea, it would not only crush his fragile ego, it would leave him completely incapable of making any sense at all out of his presidency, out of America's role in the Middle East, out of the universe.
So now he's imitating the hedgehog as literally as any human being can -- he's rolled himself up into a defensive ball, spines out. He has nothing useful to say and absolutely no strategy beyond hunkering down and passively defying reality. Which leaves the generals and the troops no choice but to hunker down with him.