Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Sectarian Violence Ate My Homework

Even in law school, where they are all the rage, I never cared for study groups. Generally, individuals in any group are incentivized to practice restraint, be it with their wisdom, questions, or time. In study groups this restraint is amplified by blunt competition, and I don't care how nice or genial everyone is, there is a point where the group disperses and every man and woman is left to fend for themselves on exam day. Period.

Admittedly, the high level commission appointed by the President to "study" its way to a magical, feasible path towards fixing what W. and Dick have broken in Iraq (or what the White House website euphemistically terms "renewal") surely has none of this competitive "I-need-the-best-grade" bunk that normal study groups contend with. But the subtle political posturing required to be welcomed into such a prestigious "study group" or "commission" is pretty much a competition of sorts. And once inside the group, individuals retain their ulterior motives. Sure, Lee Hamilton and James Baker and whoever else is in the group (Sandra Day O'Connor? Can you believe that?) seek a similar field of result, that ever elusive "victory," but to quote Maureen Dowd's column from Wednesday:

In Latvia, President Bush vowed [Tuesday] that "I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." But his words about Iraq long ago lost their meaning. Especially the words "mission" and "complete."

How can this "study group" be expected to divine a solution to a problem not of its making, especially when the group is operating within a realm of Presidential semantics that make any realistic solution impossible? I look upon this commission like I would an internet term paper service college students use when they don't want to read the book--what will be delivered is result by proxy, or in this particular instance, leadership by proxy. W. is the failing student too desperate to study on his own and too incurious to dig in and earn the A+ like a person of character. The President has plenty of time to do what he loves (attend campaign parties across the nation, clear brush) but has no time to do what must be done to stop American soldiers from dying every day (create policy). Adding insult to injury, Jim Baker's commission is severely limited because the chief architects of the Iraq mess are still lurking over the process to clean it up, like lazy bullies demanding the nerd complete the assignment on time.

Perhaps this is a great example of why inherited governance never succeeds. Throughout history, individuals handed governing leadership roles on the sole basis of filial affiliation often falter repeatedly, and even more often fail entirely. Being an executive requires a whole list of sacrifices, including doing many tasks that are tough by any standard. Being a political leader in modern America requires even heavier burdens. One has to want it, and badly. But W. is the President who never really wanted to be President; so much of his Presidency is wrapped up in his father's legacy, there is no room left for naive ambition or optimism or even truth. Rove & Company have ensured cynical, selfish "strategery" from day one. It has led to disaster. Even W. admits he's waiting to graduate so the next class can fix it all.

I have little, true insight into what Baker and his "study group" will turn in to their intellectual purchaser, George W. Bush, on exam day. But reading quotes from W. like the one above, I can see it's already too late. Hopefully the inevitable end is that we bring the soldiers home as soon as possible. The best thing the rest of us can do is ensure that our next President knows what he or she wants for America, beyond victory and then winning re-election. Let's pick someone who will write their own term paper, or better yet, care about what grade the People give it.

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