Monday, Dec. 25, 2006

The Iraq Study Group

From Wise Heads, A Clear View of Iraq
No one would mistake them for a cross section of America: two former Secretaries of State, a recent Pentagon chief, a retired Supreme Court Justice, two ex-Congressmen, two Senators emeritus, a storied civil rights leader and a former Attorney General. The five Democrats and five Republicans were collectively closer in age — about 74, on average — than in political outlook. "When we started," said Ed Meese, "the only thing we had in common was gray hair."

But when they finished, the group that co-chairman James A. Baker III described in jest as a "bunch of has-beens" had spoken for much of a country that had lost faith in a military operation halfway around the world. The Iraq Study Group worked for nine months, most of it entirely in secret, to produce the most unvarnished and unillusioned report on the American adventure in Iraq in the four-year history of the war. Their 100-page study became an instant best seller, and its very first line might be the Sentence of the Year: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating."

The sheer clarity of the report was a huge service to a nation that was having trouble getting a solid read on the Iraq mess. The 79 recommendations amounted to a barely veiled rebuke of much of the Bush team's foreign and defense policies. After their many sessions together, commissioners said there had been no screaming, no cursing — unlike other blue-ribbon panels on far less emotional problems. The group even socialized together a couple of times. It surely made it easier that they were tasked only with finding a plan for the future. "We didn't talk about how we got here," said Vernon Jordan. "We talked about how to get out of here."