Sense And Centrism: The Iraq Study Group, The 9/11 Commission, and the "Bipartisan" Mistake

Current notions of "centrism" and "bipartisanship" didn't serve the country well during the 9/11 hearings and they're not likely to fare much better under the Iraq Study Group.
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Q. What do you get when you cross a Republican with a Democrat? A. Disappointment, usually. Current notions of "centrism" and "bipartisanship" didn't serve the country well during the 9/11 hearings, despite high hopes, and they're not likely to fare much better under the Iraq Study Group.

Bipartisanship's last dark moment was when Tom Kean completed the drawn-out process of tarnishing both himself and the "centrist" 9/11 Commission he led, by lending his name to ABC's dishonest and inaccurate political hatchet job about the World Trade Center tragedy. A moment like that was almost inevitable in retrospect, given the nature and composition of the Commission.

This goes back to a point I've made before, one that the mainstream press can't (or refuses to) understand: There is a fundamental difference between bipartisanship, which they love to call "centrism," and nonpartisanship.

If the Iraq Study Group is going to be dominated by the "bipartisanship" of so-called "centrists," it will be too paralyzed by political posturing to lead us out of the quagmire.

Nonpartisanship is what's needed to solve the problem in Iraq - not a slapped-together amalgam of partisans from both parties. Such pseudo-centrism only pairs self-serving politicos from either side of the aisle, people who have more interest in preserving their common careers than in fixing real-world problems.

Here's why you haven't seen a "nonpartisan" team come together. If you were to conduct a search for nonpartisan experts most qualified to resolve the Iraq situation, you would have had to look for people who were actually right about the Iraq War -- before it happened.

That's a problem. The "bipartisan" political machine and its press office, the mainstream media, have been busy for the last three years tarring anyone who made the right call about this war as "left-leaning" and therefore not "centrist" - whether they were career Republicans, career academics, career civil servants, or career military.

It should be also noted that the word "centrist" in this context denotes consensus between Republicans and right-leaning Democrats - both of whom were spectacularly and demonstrably wrong about Iraq, despite the chorus of voices warning them of what was to come.

In the ultimate challenge to sanity, therefore, anyone who is an expert on the problems posed by Iraq is disqualified from participating in a "centrist" solution. What can we expect from a team that has been created under this set of assumptions?

Well, we can look to the 9/11 Commission for a preview. Kean and his Democratic partner, Lee Hamilton, had already tarnished the impartiality of their findings before Kean lent his name to ABC's right-wing hit piece. First, they made self-serving careerist moves to get themselves ongoing roles in in the fight against terror. Then, they acknowledged - when it was far too late - that they allowed political considerations to prevent them from asking probing questions of key witness Rudy Giuliani.

Tragically, this kept them from following an important line of inquiry, one that would have addressed the need for major urban areas to have streamlined communications systems that link police and firefighting teams. Exposing Giuliani's failure to implement such a system, despite being repeatedly urged to do so after the 1993 attack, would have embarrassed a Republican leader. For this reason alone, a key line of America's antiterrorist defense wasn't fully explored.

Hamilton is now participating in the Iraq Study Group with James Baker, the Republican strategist who played a central role in halting vote counts in Florida and initiating lawsuits that led to the Supreme Court's notorious Bush vs. Gore decision.

I applaud Hamilton for acknowledging the bias that was applied to Giuliani's questioning, however belatedly (and, by extension, to other aspects of their work as well.) I would be interested in hearing how he expects to prevent such bias from skewing the findings of the Iraq Study Group, especially since reports indicate that their hearings - and even the selection of the group's members - indicates a strong disposition to a "centrist" conclusion.

"He doesn't tolerate fools," one observer comments about Baker. Judging from reports, he doesn't tolerate smart people, either - at least if their intelligence leads them to a conclusion that troubles the status quo. If Hamilton wants to restore his reputation, and that of bipartisanship, he should push the Study Group to listen to the experts instread of the politicians.

"Centrism" is a myth in this country. Non-aligned voters aren't looking for a mythical middle ground between Republicans and Democrats. These aren't people who think to themselves, "I like both parties so much, I wish I had the best of both!"

Bipartisanship is a good and noble thing, when applied to the craft of political governance. Compromise is an essential part of our tripartite political structure. But when it comes to war and national security, bipartisanship is no substitute for nonpartisanship - the willingness to let experts look at a problem without ideological blinders.

The press and the politicians can't see that. They're all passengers on today's "bipartisan" party train. Unfortunately, when it comes to matters of war and security, we're likely to learn that's a train that's going nowhere.

A Night Light

(Here's the latest on the "centrist" press notion that Iraq's conflict shouldn't be called a civil war if elected officials don't want to call it that.)

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