Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

James Baker, the Iraq Study Group, and the Riddle Inside a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

James Baker, after saying that his Iraq Study Group will not report until after the election so as not to "interfere in politics," interferes in politics by leaking his conclusions: that he will convince George W. Bush to abandon "stay the course," for it is time for the U.S. to leave Iraq.

Is this a head fake to try to hold reality-based Republicans in line until after the election, given that Bush has no desire to change course at all?

Is this a signal that Bush is looking for cover to justify a withdrawal from Iraq, but will not take the initiative himself or announce withdrawal until after the election--because of what he fears a change of course now would do to Republican office holders? The bill for each month Bush delays doing what he should have done two years ago is 100 American soldiers dead, 500 American soldiers maimed, and perhaps 4,000 Iraqis dead.

Or is this a last-ditch attempt by Bush 41 partisans--reality-based Republicans--to use the stick of the election to make one more pathetic and vain attempt to unseat Cheney and company and get the stubborn and incompetent George W. Bush to recognize reality?

I think this is the first, and so does Helena Cobban. Pat Lang thinks it is the third. Steven Weisman says he thinks it is the second--but he's in the tank, and is saying what Baker wants him to say.

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: There is a great deal of wishful thinking going on along the Potomac these days. The Post article speaks of discontent and brooding among members of Congress, "foreign policy experts" and the like over the goings on at the Baker/Hamilton run Iraq Study Group. There is talk of a coming visit by a "senior" group of Republican law-makers to Bush (GStK) to tell him that he must "change course" in Iraq ("cut and run") or? (something). There is also the rumor that the friends of "the father" (small "f") have marshaled their forces and "girded their loins" for a similar effort.

Unfortunately, all of this inspired rumor-mongering seems to be based on whispering occurring outside the hearing of the president.... Bush, himself, and his spokesman, Tony Snowjob, went out of their way yesterday to make it clear that this is all "hooey."... Do not mistake Bush (GStK) for a businessman who maintains a brave front until his latest venture reaches the stage of collapse. He never was much of a businessman and lacks the instinct for "cutting and running" as he would think of it. If he had been Henry Ford he would still be making "Model As." To hell with the market! He does not have a clue when it comes to such concepts as "sunk cost."

People are asking me uninformed and fantasy laden questions.... Will the military be willing to continue along the present path? Hell yes, they will.... As long as they receive legal orders, the military will obey.... Congress? They authorized the war. Will they vote to un-authorize it?.... Their only real lever against a really intransigent president in a war situation is to cut off the money. Do you really think they are going to do that? I think not. The Bush 41 people? What are they going to tell him, that he is naughty? They should start thinking (with the Congress) of what kind of statement they are going to make to the press in the West Wing driveway after he shows them the door.... I will begin to take seriously the current rumors of great things a coming when Bush or Tony start to "crack" in public. I have not seen it yet.

Steven Weisman of the Washington Post--in the tank--tells us exactly what James Baker wants him to tell us, but doesn't tell us why Baker wants this story spread:

An Old Bush Hand Takes on a New Role on the Iraq War - New York Times: For years, James A. Baker III was asked to explain why the first President Bush, whom he served as secretary of state, did not oust Saddam Hussein in 1991 at the end of the Persian Gulf war. "Guess what?" Mr. Baker says these days. "Nobody asks me that anymore."... Baker said he was reluctant to take the job as the Republican co-chairman of the bipartisan group when Congressional leaders and members of the Bush administration urged him to do it.... Asserting that Mr. Bush has an unwarranted reputation for not listening to dissenting views, Mr. Baker added: "It seems to me that this project demonstrates one heck of a lot of flexibility. He's very interested in what this panel has to say."...

Mr. Bush has opened himself to the new ideas when the war is presenting some of the problems the elder Mr. Bush and his aides, in their own memoirs, have said they worried about in 1991.... Its work is to be completed in December or January, a timetable set up at the group's beginning to keep its conclusions out of the current election campaign....

Baker has declared that neither Mr. Bush's "stay the course" message nor what the White House calls the "cut and run" approach of critics offers a way out. "There are other options other than just those two," Mr. Baker said recently on National Public Radio.... His group's proposals, Mr. Baker added, will probably not please the administration or its foes....

For some time, Mr. Baker now acknowledges, he shared the limited regard that many people had of George W. Bush. Like others, he attributes Mr. Bush's eventual success to the discipline and Christian faith that led him to turn his life around in his 40's. In his book, Mr. Baker said he has tremendous admiration for the current president. But reading between the lines, it seems that admiration may not extend to others in the Bush administration. The Iraq Study Group, for example, may not recommend a change of personnel in the administration along with a change of course, but many doubt that those associated with the current approach could carry out a new one.

It is well known that Mr. Baker is not a great fan of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Baker said in his book that Mr. Rumsfeld "engineered" the elder Mr. Bush out of contention as a vice-presidential candidate under President Ford in 1976. Mr. Baker wrote of the "costly mistakes" of the war, including the lack of adequate troops and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army. But he attributed those failings to the Defense Department, not the White House. The one hallmark of Mr. Baker's efforts, associates said, is that he would not undertake a project destined to sit on a shelf and be ignored. His modus operandi is to use the Iraq Study Group not so much to "study" the problem as to work out a solution behind the scenes that is acceptable to a broad spectrum of people, most of all the president.... Dennis B. Ross... "[T]his is not going to be an academic exercise.... [Baker's] going to try to come up with a solution that also allows him to persuade the president that this is the right way to go."...

"Jim is one of the best negotiators I've ever seen," Mr. Greenspan said. "Were he not involved in the Social Security commission, I seriously question whether we could have pulled it off."

Helena Cobban writes:

'Just World News' by Helena Cobban: Jim Baker's dance of the seven veils: My own best source in the ISG's entourage agrees with this characterization of its role.... [T]he group's members are not really "studying" anything at all, but mainly spinning their wheels.... [T]he ISG still has--from the President point of view--an important role... when asked searching questions about the unraveling debacle in Iraq, the President can say "I have Mr. Baker and others of the nation's finest minds working on this problem."...

Meanwhile, though, Baker is also--as it happens--flacking his latest book.... [H]e's been getting asked lots of questions about the ISG, and he's been throwing out just enough hints to make it seem as though the group's eventual report might be recommending some "bold" changes.... What a consummate Washington player the guy is.

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