Saturday, November 18, 2006

ISG is looking for a few good ponies

Mark Lynch, card-carrying expert on Middle East affairs, notes the conspicuous absence of experts in the Iraq Study Group. I stole his whole post verbatim. Priceless.
There's a meme going around the blogs that among the shortcomings of the Iraq Study Group is an absence of Middle East experts. Depends how you count - sure, the top-line members are politicos, not experts, but that's typical (think of the 9/11 commission). If you go into the members of the expert working groups, you'll find quite a few people with quality knowledge about the region, including Shibley Telhami, Jon Alterman, Reuel Gerecht, Raad Alkadiri, Ellen Laipson, David Mack, Judith Yaphe, Dick Norton, Phebe Marr, Steve Cook, Chas Freeman, Wayne White, Bill Quandt, and more. Now, whether those people are having much input into the process is a real question (not a whole lot, from what I hear). So is whether the ISG will come up with any really new ideas (not really, from what I hear) or will be able to get administration buy-in for whatever it comes up with (your guess as good as mine). Just saying that an absence of expert participation in the process isn't the best line of attack.

My advice, when recommendations about fixing Iraq start coming out:
keep an eye out for ponies. In Belle Waring's immortal phrase:

You see, wishes are totally free. It's like when you can't decide whether to daydream about being a famous Hollywood star or having amazing magical powers. Why not -- be a famous Hollywood star with amazing magical powers! Along these lines, John has developed an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!

So, when judging recommendations for dealing with the Iraq mess, always keep an eye out for ponies! Here's how it works:

*"We should get the Iranians and the Syrians to establish control over the Shia and Sunni areas... and a pony."

*"We should get the security situation in Baghdad under control... and a pony."

*"We should get responsible leaders in each community to strike a reasonable bargain.. and a pony."

*"The administration should get a grip on reality... and a pony."

See how easy that is? If a recommendation rests on at least one totally unrealistic assumption, then no matter how pretty it otherwise sounds, you might as well wish for a pony while you're at it.

All can think to add is the old saw about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. Come to think of it, there are a lot of camels in the Middle East.

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