Stop Lying Mr. Bush About Those Other Problems
The Iraq Study Group didn't just advise Bush to change strategy in Iraq. It also urged the president to stop lying to the American people.
The Iraq Study Group advised US President George W. Bush to stop lying. Here, a woman holds a poster at a protest in California over the weekend.
We were particularly drawn to Recommendations 46, 72 and 78. Under separate headings dealing with the military, the federal budget and the nation's intelligence agencies, they share one basic idea: Government officials should not lie to the public or each other, especially in matters of war.
One should not need a blue ribbon commission to know that. But the fact that it had to be said, and so often, in the report goes a long way toward explaining how Bush got the country into the Iraq mess and why it is proving so hard to dig out of it.
Consider Recommendation 46, which calls on the new secretary of defense to create "an environment in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice" to civilian leaders, including the president. That is their sworn duty. But the back story is the Pentagon's prewar refusal to listen to the former Army chief of staff (and who knows how many other generals) who warned that it would take several hundred thousand troops to stabilize a post-invasion Iraq. The good news is that the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, acknowledged as much in his confirmation hearings. The bad news is that Bush has not.
Recommendation 72 says that "costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the president's annual budget request." The report warns that the White House's habit of using emergency funding for the war has eroded both "budget discipline" and congressional oversight. And just in case you were worrying that you hadn't been paying sufficient attention to the war's price tag, the report says the White House presents its requests in such a "confusing manner" that only detailed analyses by budget experts can answer "what should be a simple question: How much money is the president requesting for the war in Iraq?"
And finally, Recommendation 78 calls on the Pentagon and the intelligence community to "institute immediate changes" in how they collect data on violence in Iraq "to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground." The report says that officials have used a standard for recording attacks (it notes that "a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted") that systematically underreports Iraq's mayhem. It cites one day this past July when the government recorded 93 "attacks or significant acts of violence," while the Iraq Study Group's own analysis "brought to light 1,100 acts of violence."
Sprinkled among the recommendations, the report also has some homespun advice on how Bush might fix America's foreign relations. It suggests that the nature of diplomacy is to engage with adversaries as well as friends. And it warns that the United States does Israel "no favors" by refusing to try to broker peace in the Middle East, adding that it is "an axiom that when the political process breaks down there will be violence on the ground."
It is mind-boggling that this commission felt compelled to deliver Governing 101 lessons to the president of the United States. But that fits with the implicit message of the entire exercise a rebuke of the ideologically blinkered way Bush operates. The report shows that there have always been plenty of alternatives to Bush's stubborn insistence on staying the course, and that if he were just willing to make an effort, it would be possible to forge a bipartisan consensus on the toughest issues.
It's tragic that Bush could not figure that out for himself. It is far past time for him to heed this new advice.