Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How Much Did We Spend on the ISG?

When President Bush announces his stay-the-course-plus plan for an escalation of the Iraq War tonight, he will be putting the final nail in the coffin of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, or, officially, the Iraq Study Group (ISG).

The ISG was set in motion last spring with great ballyhoo, and it was constantly referenced by Bush and his enablers throughout the summer and fall, and the run up to the November midterm elections. Back then, when the Republicans thought they could use it as a bulwark against surging antiwar voter sentiment, Bush insisted that we all wait for the Baker Commission report before considering a “course correction” in Iraq. Some of the quasi realists on the right side of the aisle thought the ISG report would give Bush political cover to cut his losses by reorienting his disastrous Gulf region policies.

The release of the ISG report was conveniently delayed till after the November election, but the Democrats still prevailed by a landslide with anti-Iraq War sentiment pushing waves of voters to the polls. When Baker-Hamilton finally did release the report, the preamble proved a complete rebuke of the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the entire Iraqi campaign, and the recommendations, while a mixed bag, were clearly a call for decreased US troop levels and increased diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.

What we all hear tonight from the President will be strikingly different. Bush will call for an increase in the number of US soldiers to the tune of 21,500, and he will likely make no attempt to reach out to Iraq’s neighbors (except, it seems, through threats). In fact, the Bush proposal will closely resemble one released just days ago by the American Enterprise Institute called “Choosing Victory.”

(I’ll wait a minute for the laughter to subside.)

The Institute’s plan, presumably authored by AEI resident “scholar” Fred Kagan, calls for a “surge” of 30,000 troops for a period of eighteen months or more. This, of course, isn’t a surge at all, but a permanent escalation of the war, and, while Bush may be a little light in his troop count increase (for the time being, anyway), he has steadfastly refused to place a time limit on the escalation.

By rejecting the Baker Commission and knuckling to the neo-cons, George W. Bush has once again subjected the American and Iraqi people to slings and arrows of his own oedipal conflict. The AEI escalation will not work (Peter Galbraith gives a quick rundown of why in today’s Guardian); the voters who rejected Bush in November and continue to disapprove of his handling of the war by a margin of three to one will not be won over, and soldiers and citizens will continue to die in Iraq, but that will be a mere pittance to pay for George the younger when he gets to again show his daddy who’s the boss.

But how much do the rest of us pay? Reuters reports that tonight’s proposal will cost an additional $6.8 Billion—$5.6 Billion for the troop increase, and $1.2 Billion for what is being billed as a jobs program. Then, of course, there are the lives—those who will die, those who will be injured, those whose psyches will be permanently damaged, and the friends and families of all of those people who will have to live with the fallout (all at increased rates, thanks to this escalation). And, then, the social costs, too; the war veterans at home, the increased enmity abroad.

And what of that $1 Billion jobs program (part of, I have heard, and additional $2-3 Billion in economic aid)? First, I’ll believe it when I see it. The last six years are chockablock with programs promised funding by this administration—usually with much fanfare—that, in the end, only receive a fraction of that money.

Second, what will an extra billion dollars accomplish that the (estimated) first $20-35 Billion in economic aid hasn’t? Seriously, besides further lining the pockets of Bush/Cheney cronies and favored private contractors, will this tiny “surge” in cash change the facts on the ground? I am hard-pressed to see how, and the administration’s vague explanation that this new money will go to Iraqis only admits the corrupt way in which the previous billions have not.

And what about the Iraq Study Group report? Those things don’t just write themselves. I did some digging, and the only reference I can find is this: “Congress will appropriate $1.3 million to fund the group, which will work under the auspices of the congressionally chartered U.S. Institute for Peace and three think tanks.” That is a predictive statement, so the actual tab could be more or less, and I don’t know what a congressional charter means in terms of bucks to the US Institute for Peace, but I think it’s safe to say American taxpayers doled out at least a million dollars for a report that the Bush Administration used as political toilet paper.

Now, when compared with the $7 Billion “surge” or the trillion-dollar war, maybe $1 Million doesn’t sound like that much. But think for a moment what an extra million might mean to the embattled New Orleans Police Department or the cash-strapped New York City schools, and, suddenly, paying all that money for a DOA study seems really obscene.

Or, if you want to get a little more incensed, imagine what a $1 Billion jobs program could mean to the United States. Or think what an additional $1 Billion would mean to the Veterans Administration’s disability care budget, now pushed to the limit by the Iraq War.

Or think about what 20,000 national guards could have done to shore up levees in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, or to evacuate the city after.

But mostly, what I think about as I await tonight’s presidential address are the two soldiers that died on average every single day since the invention of a commission that we were all supposed to wait on to show us a new way forward. That’s over 600 American dead since the beginning of a process that developed a now completely discarded report. That’s how much we spent on the Iraq Study Group.

(Cross-posted over at Daily Kos.)

Update: As if to put an exclamation point on my observation, Bush’s Wednesday night speech paid absurd lip service to the Baker-Hamilton commission while openly and aggressively rejecting one of its prime recommendations. Bush didn’t just refuse to open a dialog with the Iranians, he damn near declared war on them.


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