December 6, 2006
Washington is eagerly awaiting the report from the Iraq Study Group to point the way out of the war in Iraq. Sure, there are tens of thousands of years of professional military experience at the Pentagon with every incentive in the world to get things right. But what do they know compared to a bipartisan commission of distinguished citizens, some of whom actually have foreign policy experience?
The idea that blue ribbon committees of greybeards can come up with novel ways of solving problems that everyone would then agree on has long had great appeal.
We’re positively overrun with the Blue Ribbon Panel on This and the Bipartisan Commission on That. Just a quick Google search reveals the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (aka “The 9/11 Commission”), the National Commission on Social Security Reform (not to be confused with the 1998 bipartisan National Commission on Retirement Policy or the 2001 President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security), the National Commission on Energy Policy, the bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind, and the bipartisan Commission to Strengthen Confidence in Congress.
The gold standard has to be the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was headed by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. It just doesn’t get any more bipartisan, moderate, and statesmanlike!
It’s intuitively satisfying, after all. Surely, if we would just put politics aside, we’d all agree on the way ahead. Unfortunately, the sage advice of Rodney King notwithstanding, the world doesn’t work that way.
If there were easy, obvious solutions that had strong bipartisan support, they would have been implemented by now. Even if we ascribe only base political motives to our leaders, Bush and the Republicans had every incentive to fix an unpopular policy before last week’s elections and Reid, Pelosi and company certainly would have been glad to take credit for getting us out of Iraq without having to fight off charges of cutting and running.
Any solution that Baker, Hamilton, and their colleagues can agree to will be so watered down as to be meaningless. Get more international cooperation! Make the Iraqi leadership take responsibility! Make a more concerted effort to solve the Palestinian crisis! Because nobody currently in office ever thought of those things?
With exceedingly rare exceptions, it is ideas, not compromises, that spawn great policy achievements. American Independence was achieved by a group of men willing to risk everything to achieve their vision. Slavery was ended only after a new political party rode that issue to the White House and then fought a war rather than compromise. The major social transformations wrought by the New Deal and the civil rights movement were not the product of bipartisan panels, either.
Both parties have think tanks, magazines and young leaders waiting in the wings to generate these ideas. That’s ultimately much more productive than dusting off Jim Baker and Sam Nunn every few years.