Stop me if you have heard this one. Fellow walks into a construction site and asks if there is any work for him as a handyman. "Do you do plumbing?" asked the foreman. "No." "How about electrical?" "Nope." "Maybe bricklaying?" "Nah." "Hanging drywall?" "Not." "So what makes you handy?" the foreman wonders. "Simple," says the applicant. "I live around the corner."
Who knew this ludicrous exercise in self-delusion was about to be translated into foreign policy? Yes, an entity known as the Iraq Study Group is about to suggest a plan to iron out the wrinkles in Iraq: ask for the help of its handy-dandy neighbor, Iran. This group, assembled under the auspices and aegis of the White House to advise the president on Iraq, brings together the usual fossilized suspects. Creaking their way out of desuetude into instant relevance are 10 guys, led by James Baker III and Lee Hamilton, who wouldn’t recognize the vision thing if it burned into their corneas like a laser.
Now, you and I know that easily the most hilarious delusion of our time is the one beloved of conspiracy theorists: the world is being stage-managed by the puppeteers over at the Council of Foreign Relations and the Tri-Lateral Commission. Those of us who observe the policy realm at close hand really split our sides over that one. The first is actually the council of very important personages whose resumes have no meaningful entries in two decades or more. They gather periodically to dispel the impression that they are over the hill.
The second is the commission of fatuous fatcats whose pretentiousness and portentousness is exceeded only by their vapidity. The notion of an original policy idea of some merit emanating from those quarters is chimerical at best. Peeling off a few of those geniuses to form the Iraq Study Group seemed like a good idea at the time; the time before the election, that is. It was a way of conveying to the electorate that although the situation in Iraq seemed to be frozen in the exact same position as when they re-elected Bush two years earlier, other avenues were being considered. Minus a Republican Congress and Rumsfeld, those avenues may merge into Main Street.
These groupies are natural appeasers, straight out of the Neville Chamberlain school of diplomacy. They will trade the reality of messy victory for the illusion of stability any day. They will pay any price, bear any burden, oppose any friend, support any foe to ignore the survival and success of liberty — as long as things are quiet. Challenge them and you will get an earful about the Arab Street, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pressures on the Saudi royal family … also, the word "internecine" is a big favorite. What it all adds up to is a big sell-out.
Let us review. Iraq and Iran were both in the Axis of Evil, but Iraq has since been defanged. Iran, at the same time, has strengthened itself while sharpening its rhetoric. It is moving brashly forward toward nuclear weaponry, simultaneously declaring Israel should be destroyed. Whatever bombs and bombast Iraq has, whatever noisome noise it makes, it has been reduced to a third-rate Third-World country. Iran is a far greater danger to us at this time.
Ask yourself this: Would you rather drive through a dangerous neighborhood or have a hit-man stalking you at all times? Iraq is a scary place to traverse, and it would be nice to eliminate that aspect, but Iran is a deadly enemy trying to sharpen a dagger to drive into our heart. Making concessions to an implacable foe in exchange for their help with a trouble spot would be a display of spectacular wrong-headedness.
This is a tough spot, no doubt about it. Not easy to summon the political will to prosecute a war with tough-mindedness when a presidency and a party are in freefall. Of such moments is greatness made. George W. Bush needs to stand up not only to the Democrats and the voters but also to the milquetoast wing of the Republican Party, so amply represented in the Iraq Study Group.
It only hurts when we don’t laugh, so a joke inevitably comes to mind. A famous gangster comes to the synagogue for the first time in years, and he hears the rabbi deliver a strong sermon about immorality causing the Flood. “Have I persuaded you to change your ways?” the rabbi asked the mobster hopefully. “Nah,” he answered. “But put me down for a thousand dollars for the flood victims.”