For this we waited all th­ese months?

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

The re­port of the Iraq Study Group is not ex­actly a strat­egy for un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der, but it’s what you get from an ex­pen­sive cor­po­ra­tion lawyer trained never to let con­vic­tion, pur­pose or prin­ci­ple get in the way of a set­tle­ment that will stay to­gether at least un­til the lawyers cash their checks. It was all in a day’s work for Jim Baker.

Mr. Baker is a fa­vorite tar­get of the tabloids, in­evitably por­trayed as vain, pompous, ar­ro­gant and ea­ger to settle scores. The New York Post couldn’t wait to have a lit­tle clean fun, trans­pos­ing the heads of Mr. Baker and his fel­low con­spir­a­tor-in-mis­chief, Lee Hamil­ton, onto the heads of a cou­ple of simi­ans and head­lin­ing it: “Sur­ren­der Mon­keys.”

When some­one couldn’t wait to show the front page to him, the for­mer sec­re­tary of state (for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush) looked at it with icy hau­teur, as if it were a trail of toi­let pa­per some­one tracked out of the men’s room, and replied: “Lovely. If we’re get­ting at­tacked by this rag, you know we’re do­ing some­thing right.”

But it wasn’t just “this rag,” a “rag” friendly to the pres­i­dent’s in­ter­ests. A cho­rus of oth­ers, in­clud­ing the oc­ca­sional Demo­crat, re­gard the work of the Baker-Hamil­ton panel as a feeler for sur­ren­der. The closer some­one looks at the fine print, in fact, the more the­o­log­i­cal it looks — not the work of “real­ists” but the pre­dictable spin of par­ti­san ad­vo­cates. The Arab press loves it al­ready, and why not? Mustafa Bakri, the ed­i­tor of the Cairo tabloid al-Os­boa, glee­fully says the re­port sig­nals “the end of Amer­ica.” Mr. Bakri, like Jim Baker, ad­mires Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, and urges Mr. As­sad and his Arab brothers to “cap­ture the mo­ment as Amer­ica now is in its weak­est pe­riod.” The head­line in a com­pet­ing Cairo daily, al-Wafd, de­clares “Bush con­fesses de­feat in Iraq.” What it means, the ed­i­tor said, “is the real end of Bush rule, his poli­cies and the neo­con­ser­va­tive groups.” The Beirut daily al-Akhbar calls the Baker-Hamil­ton ef­fort a “holo­caust for Amer­i­can claims.”

The vin­dic­tive Arab use of the word “holo­caust” is nei­ther co­in­ci­dence nor hap­pen­stance. There’s even a clause or two in the panel’s re­port to warm the hearts of the Jew-bash­ers at the State De­part­ment, ever ea­ger to throw a stone or two (or three) at the Is­raelis. The re­port cites the Pales­tinian “right of re­turn” to land long ago won by the Is­raelis as some­thing still to ne­go­ti­ate, and if Mr. Baker, who never met a Pales­tinian red-hot he couldn’t make an ex­cuse for, didn’t pen­cil that in, his hands are nev­er­the­less sore from ap­plaud­ing whoever did.

No one ex­pected the pan­elists to of­fer tips or point­ers on how to in­voke a mir­a­cle in Iraq. God some­times ap­pears to have given up on the Mid­dle East, and Al­lah demon­strated a long time ago that he was play­ing out of his league. Look up the def­i­ni­tion of “god­for­saken” in your Funk & Wag­nalls and you should find a map of “Ara­bia.”

Ge­orge W. Bush ap­pears to be ra­tioning the nice things he’s say­ing about the ef­forts of Mr. Baker, if only to keep peace at the sup­per ta­ble when he goes home to see the folks. Some of his praise was barely faint enough to damn. “I thought this was a very con­struc­tive re­port,” he says. This is the diplo­matic equiv­a­lent of a pat on the head for the old fam­ily re­tainer.

John McCain, who is not the equiv­a­lent of an old fam­ily re­tainer, let fly with the equiv­a­lent of the rub­ble-mak­ing thou­sand pounders he once dumped on Hanoi. “There’s only one thing worse than an over­stressed Army and Marine Corps,” he said, “and that’s a de­feated Army and Marine Corps. We saw that in 1973. And I be­lieve that this is a recipe that will lead sooner or later to our de­feat in Iraq.”

Rep. Jack Kingston of Ge­or­gia, a key Repub­li­can, dis­dains the re­port as “about as dar­ing as a glass of warm wa­ter. They might as well have come out against crime. Do they think the pres­i­dent doesn’t want to end sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence?”

The Baker-Hamil­ton panel de­liv­ered them­selves of 169 pages of ar­gle-bar­gle in the lan­guage so beloved on Capi­tol Hill, full of rant and sec­ond-guess­ing, ac­cus­ing many and per­suad­ing few. Ar­gle­bar­gle never packs the punch of the ob­vi­ous de­liv­ered with the bark on. John McCain said it plain: “I don’t be­lieve that a peace con­fer­ence with peo­ple who are ded­i­cated to your ex­tinc­tion has much short-term gain.” Right on.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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