On Wednesday, December 6, 2006, the Iraq Study
Group finally presented
its much-anticipated report on Iraq to the President and the country. It seems
the President needs advice, and so he welcomed
the formation of the Iraq Study Group when it was formed last March.
The Group has been described as a team of elder
whom some have characterized as "grownups,"
called in to supervise
a policy increasingly veering astray. Others have said the report and its fanfare
represent the ascendancy
of "realists" over "neoconservatives" in the Bush administration.
But what really is the Iraq Study Group and whose interests does it really
The Iraq Study Group was formed by and is part of an organization called the
United States Institute of Peace. The United
States Institute of Peace is a non-profit charitable organization funded by
the US Treasury and indirectly controlled by the president, who appoints
each of its 15-member Board of Directors.
The United States Institute of Peace is often described as non-partisan or
bi-partisan. Indeed, the law
that created the Institute (the United States Institute of Peace Act) explicitly
enshrines the bi-partisan principle stipulating
"Not more than eight voting members of the Board ... may be members
of the same political party."
As the bi-partisan Board members are all appointed by the president, the Board
can act indirectly as an instrument of presidential policy.
If need be, the United States Institute of Peace can draw
upon the ample resources of the US government:
"The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director
of Central Intelligence each may assign officers and employees of his respective
department or agency, on a rotating basis to be determined by the Board..."
In 2005 Congress allocated
$100 million to the United States Institute of Peace for construction of a new
permanent headquarters facility
on the National Mall facing the Lincoln Memorial, demonstrating the centrality
of the United States Institute of Peace in the US foreign policy establishment.
Over the last 20 years the United States Institute of Peace has functioned
much like other foundations that produce quasi-academic studies for publication.
These public policy foundations, or "think tanks," essentially manufacture
and package ideas and policies that are then actively promoted to the public.
What distinguishes the United States Institute of Peace from non-governmental
think tanks is its unique function – to produce an official consensus foreign
policy that is broadly acceptable to both political parties.
The consensus ideas produced by the United States Institute of Peace are intended
for an audience of government officials, both appointed and elected. These ideas
describe the limits of acceptable dissent in regard to foreign policy within
the political establishment.
For the Iraq Study Group, its raison d'etre was the deteriorating
position of US forces in Iraq and the inability of the US foreign policy establishment
to come to grips with this reality. The opening words
of the report, "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," are
its consistent theme.
It would be anachronistic to view the establishment of the Iraq Study Group
as a repudiation
of Bush’s policy resulting from the poor showing
of Republicans in the recent November mid-term elections since the Iraq Study
Group was founded
eight months prior to those elections, in March of 2006.
The objective of the report of the Iraq Study Group was simply to establish
the acceptable limits for debate within the US foreign policy establishment
in light of a steadily deteriorating situation in Iraq.
The political problem that the Iraq Study Group sought to resolve was the disunity
within the US political establishment, not the political disunity within Iraq
– for which the report does not even pretend to present a likely solution.
Such as it is, the report can be viewed as a consensus-building document whose
target is the American foreign policy establishment and electorate. In this
role, it has already met with success – as the overwhelming majority of Americans
The power of think tanks to shape public discussion and ultimately public
policy was demonstrated before the Iraq war when public perceptions concerning
Iraq were informed by a well-funded network
of think tanks connected in many intimate ways to a pro-Israel
political lobby that actively supported Bush’s Iraq policy.
The same actors are already marshaling against the report and the report’s
subdued yet explicit linking
of wider Middle East problems with Iraq:
"There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States
to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President
Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine."
directly connects Israel to Iraq in a way that unsettles Israel’s supporters,
"The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless
it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict..."
Because of this, we already see, among others, Israel
and its foreign policy advocates
on criticism. Some
are starting to deconstruct
the report as a defeatist document produced by a spineless liberal
have something in common, a high regard for Israel and the notion that Israeli
foreign policy objectives are always the same as US foreign policy objectives.
In the case of Iraq, this equation is patently false. The United States is
suffering from Bush’s adventure in Iraq and Israel is benefiting from the chaos
resulting from it.
This report deserves to be read and discussed rather than blithely dismissed.
The critics may howl, yet none
dare call it treason.