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Friday, December 22, 2006

Pondering the "dead on arrival"

I am about to "shift gears" for a couple of weeks. The fall semester is now over, and as we enter winter break I am committed to catching up on my writing and research work, including (perhaps) finally getting serious about my long planned book on accountability. In the midst of this, of course, I also have to put together a couple of undergraduate courses and try to get a handle on a dozen other projects and tasks....

And obviously the blogging will play a role in all this by giving me a place to openly ponder....

One ponderable is the "dead on arrival" label now applied to the Iraq Study Group Report. It seems that Bush and company were able to brush its recommendations aside in short order, but out of sight is not out of mind in this case. While the report itself may not contribute directly to specific policy change, its release has already proven to be a watershed event no less significant than the November elections. The fact that it was put forward by a group of legendary members of the elite -- one can hardly have thought of a more "blue ribbon" group -- and pulled few punches in its critique of the current conduct of the war makes this important. The fact that the group had Baker as its (co)chair brings the symbolic power of the document up several notches.

If there is anything remotely comparable in US history, it might be the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ellsberg's "Papers" (see here and here) did not contain recommendations, and in fact was a documentation and history of US involvement more than a "report" or assessment. But its meaning and impact was derived from the fact that it was the product of the very same "best and the brightest" of the national security community that supposedly helped launch and sustain the Vietnam War. Its symbolic power was as a critical consideration of the war and how we got there. Obviously it generated more heat than fire, for the war lasted another 5 years,, but hardly anyone denies it as a turning point in the tone and direction of the war effort.

Such is clearly going to be the historical role that will be attributed to the ISG Report.


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