B-H B.S. Recall that David Ignatius wrote an op-ed last week championing the Bush administration's trial-balloon interest in resuscitating some of the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendations for Iraq, and wagging his finger at "partisans" like Nancy Pelosi and the president himself for standing in the way of a bipartisan solution to the Iraq "impasse." Now that Bush has made explicit his intention to follow a few of the commission's recommendations (as he said Thursday, "Actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker-Hamilton, so that would be a Plan B-H."), Ignatius is back at it.
What drove the White House discussion of post-surge strategy was a sense that the political timeline in Washington was out of sync with the military one in Baghdad. The U.S. clock needed to be slowed down, while the one in Iraq needed to be speeded up. The best way to synchronize clocks, officials concluded, was a less ambitious but more sustainable policy -- one that emphasized the training of the Iraqi army, U.S. Special Forces missions against al-Qaeda, a diplomatic opening to Iran and a reduction in U.S. troops. The shorthand name for this policy was Baker-Hamilton.
On the domestic political front, White House officials realized that last week's victory in passing a war-funding bill could be short-lived. Funding would run out again at the end of September, and there were growing signs that Republicans would join Democrats in calling for a troop withdrawal. Before that September vote, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, would be making a crucial progress report. It was unlikely that Petraeus would be able to proclaim such glowing success that congressional criticism would disappear, and in any event officials were wary of putting all their eggs in that basket. Political reality required a reduction in U.S. troops during 2008, rather than an open-ended surge.
Ignatius then goes on to -- big surprise -- tut-tut Nancy Pelosi again for her likely opposition to such a plan. But what plan is this? Note that Bush hasn't been specific about any such "reduction in U.S. troops." Also note, as Harold does today, that training the Iraqi army is a dubious enterprise if there is no non-sectarian nationalist army to be training. But most of all, note what Matt explained months ago when the Iraq Study Group released its report: The actual policy prescriptions offered by Baker-Hamilton are a fraud -- meaningless platitudes and exercises in wishful thinking that run counter to the very analysis of the predicament found in the report itself.
And thus it's clear what the actual motive for the administration is in talking B.H. up as we head into the fall: As Ignatius puts it, "While the Democratic leadership isn't likely to join Bush in a top-down push for consensus, White House officials hope that by embracing Baker-Hamilton, they can begin to build out from a new center. The goal is a policy that has broad enough support that it could last into the next administration." [emphasis added] B.H. is going to offer not a cover for a bipartisan coalition to support Bush's policy, but rather the pretext for Republicans in Congress to continue to support the war rather than join Dems in pushing for withdrawal. As for Bush's policy aim in Iraq, it's merely to keep kicking the can down the road, attempting the same goals -- "reconciliation," "training," etc. -- the U.S. has attempted to achieve for four years now. More of the same, and war without end.
People keep wondering "how" Republicans are going to be able to sustain their support for the occupation (and many people seem to be convinced that that support will end in September); this is exactly how it's going to happen, and with commentators like Ignatius and David Broder nodding in approval, it'll be relatively easy to do.