09 December 2006

I suppose most readers of this blog pretty much give George W. Bush zero political credibility, but I for one have often thought that he's got a good tactical political sense about him. Firing Rumsfeld, for one thing, was the exact right thing to do at the time it was done.

It's surprising to me, then, how poorly he's used the Iraq Study Group. (Note: the following analysis doesn't have anything to do with the wisdom of their recommendations; I'm not qualified to evaluate that. It's the President's public reaction that I'm critiquing.) It's really not necessary to appoint this study group to actually come up with new ideas on Iraq; there are literally thousands of people with more expertise who are working in various agencies in Washington who have come up with plenty of ideas. The purpose of appointing a Study Group composed, as I can see it, of People With Credibility, is to have them suggest something and then give the President political cover for doing it. The President has massive face-saving problems when it comes to Iraq; any suggestion of changing strategy looks like a political defeat. So instead of him admitting he's been wrong, he can say he's following the recommendations of wise people.

Of course, he hasn't done this at all; he's essentially rejected the Study Group's recommendations, managing to eliminate all political benefit they could have conveyed to him AND exacerbating his stubbornness/stupidity image. It may have made sense from a policy standpoint to reject those recommendations, but it was politically calamitous to do so. If he didn't want those options on the table, he should have told the study group (when it was still secret) that they were off the table. Even better, from a Machiavellian point of view, would have been to tell them exactly what to recommend.

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