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Written by committee is a cliche, and it is a cliche for a reason. When a number of people gather to write something, especially a policy document, the results are often less than decisive. This is even more true when the members of the committee have positions and past associations to protect, (as is often the case). And this describes the content: the style is also usually very bland.

Of course, literary merit wasn't what led people to read the Iraq Study Group Report. At the time it was released, it was meant to be a milestone in what was then the quagmire of Iraq. The Bush Administration was already (to put it mildly) disliked by liberals, especially because of the conduct of the Iraq war. At the time the study group was commissioned, much of the "moderate" public, and politicans, were also growing weary of the war and were distrustful of the administration's seeming blind faith that the war would improve. Thus, congress gathered together a group of senior policy makers, who together with an extensive group of staff people, interviewed nearly everyone involved, and produced a report. Part of that report was a 100 page document, released for public consumption.

This document has two parts: an assessment, and recommendations for "the way forward". At the time the document was released, the assessment was the most newsworthy part. As stated, documents written by committee often equivocate to the point of saying nothing. But the Assessment section clearly states that the Iraq War was not going well, and was not going to get better. Something that was clear to many people before the report was released, but now there was a document, written in part by members of the Republican establishment, that verified this.

It is the second part of the report, "The Way Forward" that seems to be more questionable. It consists of 79 policy recommendations, with explanations of why they were needed, and what they were needed for. They cover steps that would be needed to improve Iraq's economic and political condition, and also international efforts to be made to help Iraq.

What is unfortunate is that the people on this committee, and what I assume was a large, trained staff, really seemed to have done their homework. Many of their recommendations would make perfect sense in terms of technocrats administering a troubled region. The problem is that Iraq was beyond troubled, and even reaching the point where the reforms could be begun seemed to be a great distance off. The report also included some movement in regional politics that seemed to be impossible, such as getting Syria's cooperation in sealing its border by getting Israel to give up the Golan Heights. My copy might be damaged, because the section after this, where the committee discusses colonic expulsion of aerodynamic simians seems to be missing.

For example, the committee also suggests that the National Border Police be moved from being a civil agency to being a military agency. Which would seem to be a good move, but I doubt it would immediately improve the National Border Police's ability to patrol Iraq's long, dangerous border. All of these technical and administrative questions will have to wait until the political hatred and outright violence are looked over. The committee doesn't explain exactly how that vital step will happen, although it does assure, with technocratic optimism, that "National Reconciliation" will take place by late 2007. In some ways, the report reminds me of the Underpants Gnomes business plan, but with the ??? being the first step.

Of course, history moves forward apace, and many of the issues in the report are no longer issues. The situation in Iraq was stabilized (somewhat) by a combination of military force and reconciliation efforts. One of the reports major findings was that the initial occupation of Iraq was not, by most measures, successful. This is no longer a controversial fact in American politics. Whether the various administrative and economic reforms in the report will be important in returning Iraq to long-term stability remains to be seen. My own feeling is that they are all fairly good, if obvious suggestions, but that, being written by committee, they were not written with sharp and deep enough insight to be put into effect as long term plans for strategic transcendence.

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