July 09, 2007

David Brooks & The ISG

David Brooks, on PBS NewsHour July 6th: "And, then, the final thing, the problem with the Iraq Study Group--and Mark is absolutely right. I think the Bush administration bitterly regrets not embracing that now."

Ah, but where was David on the ISG back in the day, you know, when it counted most? Here he was on January 11th of this year, busily poo-pooing the ISG's findings ("pulling a tooth slowly"), just as debate had been raging as to whether Bush should adopt same: "So we are stuck with the Bush proposal as the only serious plan on offer."

And thus Mr. Brooks breezily designated the collective output of the ISG, methodically researched, debated and compiled over many months, with the hands-on involvement of internationally regarded foreign policy experts, as largely irrelevant in the august pages of the New York Times. Now, it is true, this wasn't quite the denigrative 'surrender monkey' fare of lesser local competitors, but comparing Baker-Hamilton to a botched tooth-extraction certainly wasn't a resounding endorsement either, nor frankly particularly serious itself. Now dear reader, come along and fast forward a 'Friedman' or so with me, and David Brooks advises us there is now "bitter regret" in the land (well, at least in the esteemed councils of power 'round the Potomac) that the ISG's recommendations weren't implemented when originally proposed. Pity David hadn't helped more back in the day, who knows, more Pete Domenicis might have crawled out of the woodwork, even!

Meantime, this additional snippet from Brooks, in its guileful counter-intuitiveness, is worth a trip down memory lane too (from the Dec 15 '06 NewsHour):

So I think, when you look back on the lasting effect of the Iraq Study Group, I think it will have prolonged our presence in Iraq, because I think, after the election, people could have said, "The voters sent a message. Let's get out of Iraq." Then you had the likes of Republican Senator Gordon Smith saying, "I'm at the end of my rope." Without the Iraq Study Group, you could really kind of brought kind of momentum, "We're out of here." But the Iraq Study Group froze the debate for a month, and then said, you know, slow, gradual withdrawal. And so I think, perversely, the end effect was to keep us there longer. [emphasis added throughout]

Like a modern-day Delphic oracle, David grandiloquently proclaimed that Baker-Hamilton's "lasting effect" would be, drum-roll please, "prolong[ing] our presence in Iraq"! Yes, James Baker and Lee Hamilton's call for a draw-down of our combat forces in theater by March '08, coupled with a massive "diplomatic offensive" to help achieve same (a phrase they probably, and erroneously it turns out, thought would appeal to Bush's sophomoric martial machismo, as in, 'we gotta say on offense!'), that's what proved a lead causal contributor to us getting further ensnared in the Mesopotamian bog, at least in the alternative universe Mr. Brooks appears to inhabit on the issue.

Let's quote the ISG:

By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection, and search and rescue. Intelligence and support efforts would continue.

In short, it's pretty clear that the ISG was pushing for a relatively expeditious phasing out of our force posture in Iraq, rather than patrolling myriad Baghdad neighborhoods until Jan 2009, say. But no, suddenly Gordon Smith and other assorted Congressional waverers espied a renewed committment was required per the ISG, rather than an orderly re-deployment operation, accompanied by energetic regional diplomacy (yes, I know, I'm asking for too much here....)

Indeed, it's quite interesting that Mr. Brooks mightn't identify, say, the half-baked cogitations of 30-something AEI'ers ringing the victory bugles from their 17th Street Power-Point stations, the better so that the Kristol-wing could fete McCain and Lieberman at another think-tank gab-fest heavy on rhetoric and short on reality. It's such ribald festivities--where new hi-falutin' 'strategy' was rolled out to rapturous acclaim, along with guffaw-inducing arguments that even considering a Plan B would only be counter-productive--that could be said to have had as "lasting effect" a more "prolonged presence in Iraq." Recall, on predictable 'victory is nigh' cue around the time of the AEI rally, with the pom-poms still being cleared out by the janitorial staff, the President proceeded to ship another 20,000-30,000 Americans to theater.

This deployment occurred without having given nearly enough serious (that word again!) thought to creating a new dynamic either within the Maliki government, among various Iraqi factions or, indeed, with key neighbors--so that the surge might more convincingly be seen to be contributing to some over-arching revised strategic direction, rather than still playing whack-a-mole chasing insurgents around the 'belts' of Baghdad in pursuit of some chimerical "security", all the while with the civil war in Iraq deepening, a Turkish intervention in the north looming ever likelier, and Iranian influence steadily growing through large swaths of the country, not least the southeast around Basra, ostensibly where Joe Lieberman wants us to supplement the few thousand Brits with, oh I don't know, perhaps National Guard from the great State of Connecticut, as prelude to the storied cross-border raids to come? (And regarding relative successes in places like Ramadi, ask yourself, why the Anbar "Awakening"? Could it be, in large part, because the local sheiks believe U.S. forces are more likely to protect them from Shi'a revanchism than al-Qaeda? And, in a grim historical irony, is it too much to predict that Shi'a killing squads will ultimately massacre many of these Sunnis, or at least their cousins in Baghdad, much like Saddam had the Shi'a Marsh Arabs, when another President Bush had summoned them to rise up, similarly promising more than he could ultimately deliver?)

But no. Commentators like David Brooks, one of the few intelligent conservative columnists writing today (cue outraged comments that I dare praise the man, but he is no dumbie), called Bush's surge the only "serious" plan on offer (take that Baker-Hamilton, Gelb-Biden, etc!). And so, despite all the strategic blundering and gross adventurism previously manifested, despite the "casual swagger" in which we rushed to war, and attendant negligence with American lives (a form of reckless gambling better suited for 3 AM at the roulette wheel of the Bellagio than the battlefields of Iraq), this President's war policy yet again gained the imprimatur of gravitas among some elite opinion-makers.

Well, now 6 months on, some 520 Americans have died since the surge began. For what did these men die? So that husband and wife teams can entertain us with fantastical sketches chronicling varied triumphs in the pages of the Weekly Standard? So that we learn, with the cost more blood shorn, that counter-insurgency tactics that arguably worked in Tal Afar will doubtless fail, when applied to a city of some 6 million inhabitants in the grips of sectarian chaos, given the current troop mix and strength, and lack of adequate police forces? Yes, historians will analyze for decades hence how it came to be that the attack on the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan led to 18 year old kids from the American heartland patrolling mixed Sunni-Shi'a neigborhoods in Baghdad, acting like local gendarmarie, in a struggle of which they know almost nothing, and which has little impact on our national security (or will Sadr's men follow us home if we leave or some such?).

But, regardless, please Mr. Brooks, do not lay this bloody denouement at the doorstep of those who, if belatedly, were at least trying mightily to extricate us, in a reasonably responsible manner with some tiny vestige of honor, from a failed engagement, rather than those who were advocating insertion of 28,000 men into Iraq as some supposed panacea to stem raging sectarian conflict, without being accompanied by sustained diplomatic engagement with the very states that could have the most influence on Iraq's stability. You called that plan "serious", but it had more the trappings of bull-headed stubborness, no matter the talents of General Petraeus (which are considerable), or the chest-beating of Beltway dead-enders.

Posted by Gregory at July 9, 2007 08:08 AM

Brooks: not dumb, but still as dishonest as all the rest. The smarts just help him cover it up.

Posted by: Greg Greene at July 9, 2007 03:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I do not know whether I would lay much of the failure of the Bush administration to adopt the ISG findings at David Brooks' doorstep. He's just a pundit; and Bush had pretty well made up his mind and that was that. And really, I'm kind of struck with the irrelvence of it all when I read that Powell said he spent 2.5 hours trying to talk Bush out of the Iraq invasion, and then, um, kind of forgot to, um, resign, when that invasion went through.

There were people -- oddly enough -- generally moderate Republicans like you who failed to stand up and be counted, even though they had the information and good sense in 2003 to know invading Iraq in 2003 was a pretty big mistake. It's not fashionable to say Powell and Armitage bear an awful lot of responsibility for what happened, because they seem to have let all the right people know that they did not support that rifle-totin' maniac Cheney. But, nevertheless, it needs to be said. Loudly. What good is a moderate in power, if he does not do all in his power to stop his own party jihadists?

I guess this is why I find so much of what you are writing, and what Sullivan is writing these days "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Yes, Bush is the worst President since Buchanan. So what are you going to do about it? Echo your good friend Tom Maguire by criticising New York Times articles, and smacking around pundits?

Congress has another funding measure for the Iraq adventure coming down the pike. What can Congress do? What can truly, within our system, be done to prevent the killing of another 500-1000-1500 Americans? With due respect to you and Mr. Sullivan, getting angry is not much use, unless you unite it with action.

We have gone to war with the Bush Administration we have. What do we do to restrain them?

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at July 9, 2007 04:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"We have gone to war with the Bush Administration we have. What do we do to restrain them?"

Tell you what; Bush has made his career being 'resolute' about whatever flinty mindset his predispositions dictate. He rock-headedly sticks with the decision he has, regardless of the post-learnings realized by his advisors/aides. He thumbs his nose at the Coliseum crowds and signals 'thumbs-up when everyone else is screaming 'thumbs-down, and he gets away with it.

Why don't the Dems get serious about logging support for impeachment with the same shameless strategy of ignoring the thin majority who
don't support impeachment? The issue of VP's role in the process
be damned. Let the El Supremos juggle this hot potato. They are
just as culpable as Powell for the results found in Iraq and everything
that grows from it like crabgrass and black mold. It started with
their support. Let them decide where the chips fall.

Posted by: Semanticleo at July 9, 2007 05:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As usual, Brooks is using his "intelligence" in service to his role as a water carrier for the GOP. He may be no "dumbie", dummy, but he is completely devoid of itnegrity.

Brooks is talking about the ISG report because the craven "moderate" republicans are now backing a proposal that calls for the implementation of the ISG recommedations. But the operative words are "calls for" -- the proposal is completely toothless. Its merely a series of "Sense of Congress" and "Official policy" statements that requires NO CHANGE in Bush's Iraq policies, places NO RESTRICTIONS on Bush's conduct of the warand requires NO WITHDRAWAL of troops from Iraq. THe only thing is does actually require is various "reports" on "progress" toward implementing the recommendations found in the proposal.

So Greg, rather than complain about water-carriers like Brooks, isn't it about time that you called for the withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq as quickly as it can be done in a safe and orderly fashion?

Posted by: p_lukasiak at July 9, 2007 05:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I disagree that Brooks isn't a dummy. He's not a slack-jawed idiot, but he doesn't appear to be nearly as smart as he apparently thinks he is. He uses his college-enhanced (I assume he graduated Ivy League, not that there's anything wrong with that) intellect to use big words and tortuous phrases to say things that don't make any damn sense. He can read, but he doesn't seem to comprehend, and apparently his audience and his bosses at the NYT don't, either.

Also, I don't think the Bush admin bitterly regrets anything, except that darn pesky First Amendment (not that most of the press needs it, seeing as most of them have been such faithful stenographers throughout Bush's two terms). Bush speechifies about how awful dictatorships are, but I think he not-so-secretly envies them their power and wishes he had the same.

Posted by: LL at July 9, 2007 06:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Not dumb. Maybe. Not smart, definitely:


Posted by: jcasey at July 9, 2007 06:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

David Brooks is very smart. He knows that by parroting wildly stupid-ass right wing positions will garner him a coveted place in the NYTimes OpEd, plenty of TV time, and a reservations at various shithead "Think Tanks" when the time is right. He knows where his bread is buttered: Wingnut Welfare.

He's a disingenuous dickweed for sure, but he's set for the duration. I just wish he'd do something about his mailbox.

Posted by: ed at July 9, 2007 07:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'd be more concerned about what Dick Lugar is thinking than David Brooks, myself. And maybe, that means worrying more about what the Indianapolis Star is saying than the New York Times.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at July 9, 2007 08:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like Bush, I'm sticking with my original assessment no matter what anyone says: David Brooks is not smart. Cynical, certainly, but you don't have to be smart to be cynical. Again, observe Bush for proof of that.

Posted by: LL at July 9, 2007 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brooks, like his fellow Neo-Cons, is not "dumb" per se, but rather breathtakingly biased. These people have a few concepts they believe in- America is always Great, Israel is always Right, Democracy is Good, Muslims are Bad- and interpret all events through that narrow prism.

And good point about the Surge, Greg. History will undoubtedly actually say that the ISG was presented as a bipartisan face-saver at a time when the war looked pretty bleak. The thing that actually prolonged the debate to the point where we still have troops in Iraq indefinitely was obviously the SURGE. The "surge" allowed Bush to ask for "one last chance at victory," and greg is right- far too many pundits said "oh let's give him this one last chance."

Posted by: Dan at July 9, 2007 08:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Brooks isn't dumb, then his behavior is even more reprehensible.

Calling him dumb is being quite charitable.

Posted by: Andy at July 9, 2007 08:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's the intelligent David Brooks on yesterday's "Meet The Press", discussing Bill Clinton's role as a spokesperson for his wife:

"I think Bill Clinton can be very effective for her when he does that, when he's the post-President, post-ambition sort of larger picture big thinker, all that kind of crap."

Truly a modern-day Cicero.

Posted by: fishbrake at July 9, 2007 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> Truly a modern-day Cicero.

Ouch, I laughed too hard at that one -- nice turn of phrase!

Posted by: Mames Jadison at July 9, 2007 09:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

David Brooks is a shill propagandist who has NO integrity whatsoever.He is a rightwing dishrag they use to squeeze the bile and delusions into the minds of the true believers.That thirty percent who would eagerly jump into the open arms of the apocolypse this so called president has so heartily tried to bring about.Of course Brooks doesnt even believe his own false statements,hes too smart as you said.The rightwing just counts on the people who arent bright enough too see behind the curtain..

Posted by: truthynesslover at July 9, 2007 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So on the scale of mammalian intelligence, where does Brooks end up? Dumber than a chimp but smarter than a really smart dog? Smarter or dumber than a pig? What about dolphins? Is he smarter than a dolphin? I say that if you put Brooks and a well-trained lab rat in the same maze, the rat would beat Brooks' time. In fact, the rat would be sitting on its haunches nibbling at the hunk of cheese before Brooks could get to the end and claim his face time on the NewsHour (and BTW, did the space between "News" and "Hour" get deleted in the latest round of cost-cutting at PBS?).

Posted by: LL at July 9, 2007 09:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brooks is a shill.

Brooks is evil.

Brooks insults the middle class with a knowing smirk.

Why does this %$#-ing matter? David Brooks is no expert on Iraq. He writes pleasent cultural history. Who out there stares at their New York Times, scans Brooks' wise thoughts and says, "Gee, I really should give the surge a chance."? Who, of any importance in Washington, watches his sage chat show pablum, nods his head and goes "Jeepers, good thing I listened to this fellow. Otherwise I would have supported that Iraq Study Group thingy."

The ISG approach is dead because the Bush Administration is unwilling to use it, and too incompetent to take the delicate steps it would require. We have -- honestly -- two choices. Pull out. Or wait until January 2009 and hope for the best. Our stubborn little decider won't compromise, so it's either he gets his way, or he gets his toy soldier set taken from him. The sentiments of David Brooks about this little nursery drama are useful only in that they fill time in between other equally worthwhile talking heads.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at July 9, 2007 09:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No, Brooks is not dumb. Just another member of the lazy entitled class. Integrity would be too much of an effort.

Posted by: empty at July 9, 2007 09:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've flamed appalled_moderate more often than not, but I gotta say, his comments here make a lot of sense. I wouldn't hold my breath, though, waiting for Lugar to actually DO anything to match his mush-worded "criticism". Likewise with all the rest of the "serious", "moderate" Republicans who are now wondering if they might actually suffer consequences for abdicating their Constitutional roles for years. In fairness, Democratic inertia -- "Golly, we don't have the votes. Bush is bad! Wah!" -- isn't exactly inspiring, either.

As for Brooks, he's as "smart" as Frank Rich or Maureen Dowd, sure. He's their moral equal, too.

Posted by: sglover at July 9, 2007 09:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In my view, David Brooks makes some rather crappy arguments. Not once or twice, but very frequently. So frequently, in fact, that one might reasonably question the degree to which he knows what a good argument is--you know, the things being true and logically following and all of that. So maybe he's a genius, but he sure does a good job of looking silly. And when he's not making specious arguments, he engages in worthless cultural commentary. This usually rests on the following trope: there are two kinds of people . . . One wonders: why only two David? Whey every time there are kinds, there are only two? I keep wondering whether the right can't produce better commentary. They've got to be able to do better than this.

Posted by: jcasey at July 9, 2007 10:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think he's a very polite slimeball. Takes some intelligence, but not all that much.

Posted by: Daphne Chyprious at July 9, 2007 10:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes David Brooks is a fool. But on the other hand all of you beating up on him probably voted our dunce in chief into office.


So forgive me if the powers of observation expressed here are seen as blaming someone else for your own foolish mistakes.

Posted by: Richard Bottoms at July 9, 2007 10:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes David Brooks is a fool. But on the other hand all of you beating up on him probably voted our dunce in chief into office.

boy, do I resent THAT assumption! :)

Posted by: p_lukasiak at July 9, 2007 10:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes David Brooks is a fool. But on the other hand all of you beating up on him probably voted our dunce in chief into office.


Ah, no. Twice.

Posted by: sglover at July 9, 2007 10:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

RE: Who out there stares at their New York Times, scans Brooks' wise thoughts and says, "Gee, I really should give the surge a chance."? Who, of any importance in Washington, watches his sage chat show pablum, nods his head and goes "Jeepers, good thing I listened to this fellow. Otherwise I would have supported that Iraq Study Group thingy."

I don't know if anyone in importance in D.C. pays attention to Brooks (let's hope not), but I bet there are still plenty of doofuses who think that the NYT's dwindling cachet and journalistic integrity (hee hee) is conferred upon their columnists and think David Brooks knows what he's talking about by extension. You know and I know that both the NYT and Brooks are cynical, ass-kissing know-nothings, but there are still people who think that the NYT is one of the top newspapers in the country. I still read it for occasional stories, but I trust its government/war coverage not at all. As for why anyone cares what Brooks thinks, I basically just wanted to rip on him some more, because he is such a tool. The only NYT columnist who's more insufferable is Safire. Others may disagree, and if you want to rip into MoDo, Krugman et al, feel free.

RE two kinds of people: yes, exactly. His arguments make no sense and formulating a nonsensical argument in an articulate manner is not evidence to me of great intelligence. My favorite column of his warned women who thought they could put off childbearing into their 30s in order to go to college/start a career that legions of women in their 30s and 40s with only one child and no time left to have another were sad, so very very sad, that they were deprived, by the cruelty of biology, to having only one child. He seemed to think this was one of the great tragedies of our time. If I'm recalling correctly, he even suggested that the govt. should pay women to have more babies (isn't he supposed to be a Republican?).

Posted by: LL at July 9, 2007 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For the record, I didn't vote for El Busho either time.

Posted by: LL at July 9, 2007 10:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is something very disturbing about all these think tank neo-cons, most of which have never spent five seconds in uniform, much less on the battlefield, having so much influence over the botched occupation in Iraq. And then blaming liberals, most of which had absolutely nothing to do with the policy no costing so much money and lives overseas. They are demonizing their political opponent and washing their hands of any responsibility.

I wonder how long many of these self-appointed champions of liberty would last on the battlefield.

Posted by: George Arndt at July 9, 2007 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whether Brooks is a dupe or a liar, he is parroting administration talking points with the nonsense about Iraq becoming 'an al-Qaida state'.

Greg, however, seems so desperate to rehabilitate his pet ISG that he is seeing support for it where it doesn't exist. Brooks still doesn't think much of the ISG as policy.

'But the central problem with the Iraq Study Group, as many people have pointed out, is that it still relies on some sort of central government in Baghdad to really run the country. And, if the Maliki government can't do it, then the Iraq Study Group plan also falls apart.'

Brooks's 'the Bush administration bitterly regrets' was about politics, not policy. Brooks was expressing agreement with these remarks of Mark Shields:

'And it mystifies almost all the Democrats and most Republicans why, last December, George Bush did not embrace the Iraq Study Group, because, at that point, it would have given co-ownership -- because the Democrats did -- co-ownership of the Iraq war to both parties.'

Posted by: David Tomlin at July 9, 2007 11:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know, has David Brooks ever been taken in, by a fake trading floor; as part of his consultancy. Made the argument that
Enron was going to be more significant than the events of 9/11.
Has Maureen Dowd, ever said anything of consequence that
doesn't sound like her sorority mutterings at C.U. No, I didn't
think so. Friedman coined the "Hama rules" paradigm yet he
seems shocked when the Alawite dynasties security services
do something like murder the up and coming Lebanese prime
minister, using the Jund al Shams; give Hezbollah, Hamas &
the PIJ sanctuary. He then forgets the lessons of Beirut, as if
he ever learned them. Now Brooks isn't saying he approves
of the ISG's recommendations; he just thinks they're a good
fig leaf, they're not. They would reward the Syrian Mukharabats,
Iranian Vevak, Saudi General Intelligence's job in destabilizing
Iraq for their own efforts.

Posted by: narciso at July 10, 2007 12:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom "Friedman Unit" Friedman and Maureen Dowd are no better. But that has no bearing on Brooks's silliness. Today, for instance, read him for some scintillating cultural commentary on the oeuvres of Lavigne, Pink, Carrie Underwood.

Posted by: jcasey at July 10, 2007 12:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brooks has insightful things to say about contemporary society and culture. I am often impressed with the originality of his domestic commentary. He is always embarassing when he tackles foreign policy. He should know his limits and leave the world beyond the United States to David Ignatius.

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Posted by: Alan at July 17, 2007 11:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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