A "wake-up call" on Iraq? The rest of us were already up

The mainstream media says that the ISG will change the "national debate." That debate is already over.

By Tim Grieve
Published December 7, 2006 2:14PM (EST)

The Washington Post's Dan Balz says the Iraq Study Group's report "promises to change the national debate" about the war in Iraq. Tim Russert says the report is "not only a wake-up call for the Bush White House, but I think for the whole country."


The ISG's report is, as Russert says, "sobering." And maybe -- well, not maybe -- the president still needs to "sober up" when it comes to the "grave and deteriorating" state of the war he started nearly four years ago. But we have a hard time seeing how the report's grim assessments of Iraq actually changes the "national debate." The American people have shown that they don't need the "wake-up" call Russert thinks it will provide.

It's like Russ Feingold says: "Maybe there are still people in Washington who need a study group to tell them that the policy in Iraq isnt working, but the American people are way ahead of this report."

The report, like newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, casts doubt on the idea that the United States is "winning" the war in Iraq. In a CNN poll taken last month, 61 percent of Americans said they think we're "not winning." In a Pew poll taken around the same time, 64 percent of Americans said the military effort in Iraq was going either "not too well" or "not at all well"; only 6 percent said it was going "very well."

The report says that there's "no guarantee" of success in Iraq. Americans already understand that, too: 58 percent said in November that they think we won't win, while just 40 percent said they still believe that we will. Only 12 percent of Pew's respondents said that the United States will "definitely succeed" in meeting its goals for Iraq.

ISG co-chairman Lee Hamilton said Wednesday that the Bush administration's "current approach" on Iraq is "not working," and that "the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing." In November, 74 percent of Pew's respondents said the president does not have a clear plan for winning in Iraq; only 19 percent said that he did.

In the same poll, 65 percent of the respondents said they think that Democratic leaders in Congress lack a clear plan, too. If anywhere, we suspect that that's where the ISG's report has the most potential for changing the "national debate." By summarily rejecting the "leave now" option, the ISG may have helped Bush and the White House fend off any such calls from congressional Democrats for now. But the ISG report comes awfully close to the dominant position among elected officials in the soon-to-be-majority party -- it calls for a timetable, just without calling it one -- and the American people have long since expressed support for a move at least as dramatic as that: A majority of Pew's respondents said last month that they support a timetable for withdrawal, and an even bigger majority told CNN that some or all of the U.S. troops ought to be pulled out of Iraq starting now.

So, a "wake-up call"? Only if you've been sleeping, Tim. The rest of the country has been wide awake for quite some time now -- the midterm election results were a pretty good sign of that -- and we don't need a report from the "wise men" of Washington to tell us that it's time to sober up and get to work.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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