Comment is Free, The Guardian, Sydney Blumenthal, December 21
Having rejected the ISG, Bush is now embracing the manifesto of a rump group of neocons for the escalation of the Iraq war.
“We’re going to win,” President Bush told a guest at a White House Christmas party. Another guest, ingratiating himself with his host, urged him to ignore the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state and his father’s close associate, which described the crisis in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and offered 79 recommendations for diplomacy, transferring responsibility to the Iraqi government and withdrawing nearly all US troops by 2008. “The president chuckled,” according to an account in the neoconservative Weekly Standard, “and said he’d made his position clear when he appeared with British prime minister Tony Blair. The report had never mentioned the possibility of American victory. Bush’s goal in Iraq, he said at the photo op with Blair, is ‘victory.'” Bush reasserted his belief that “victory in Iraq is achievable” at his Wednesday press conference.
Two members of the ISG were responsible for George Bush’s becoming president. Baker had manoeuvred through the thicket of the 2000 Florida contest, finally bringing Bush v Gore before the supreme court, where Sandra Day O’Connor was the deciding vote. (Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker reported that she had complained before hearing the case that she wanted to retire but did not want a Democrat to appoint her replacement.) Through the Iraq Study Group, Baker and O’Connor were attempting to salvage what they had made possible in Bush v Gore. Upon Bush’s receipt of the report, a White House spokesman told the press,”Jim Baker can go back to his day job.”
The day after the report was submitted, on December 8, Tony Blair appeared at the White House. He had testified before the Baker commission, and supported its main proposals, but now stood beside Bush as the president tossed them aside, talking instead of “victory.”
“The president isn’t standing alone,” explained White House press secretary Tony Snow. Blair left to pursue a vain mission for Middle East peace, emphasising by his presence the US absence. His predetermined failure outlined the dimensions of the vacuum that only the US could fill. On December 18, Chatham House, the former Royal Institute of International Affairs, issued a report on Blair’s foreign policy: “The root failure of Tony Blair’s foreign policy has been its inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way despite the sacrifice – military, political and financial – that the United Kingdom has made.”
The day before the Chatham House report was released, former secretary of state Colin Powell appeared on CBS News’s Face the Nation to announce his support for the rejected Iraq Study Group and declare, “We are not winning, we are losing.” He made plain his opposition to any new “surge” of troops in Baghdad, a tactic he said had already been tried and failed. Powell added that Bush had not explained “the mission” and that “we are a little less safe.”