The Iraq Study Group report was bipartisan mush, as expected. Slate's Fred Kaplan summed it up perfectly:
Its outline of a new "diplomatic offensive" is so disjointed that even a willing president would be left puzzled by what precisely to do, and George W. Bush seems far from willing. Its scheme for a new military strategy contains so many loopholes that a president could cite its language to justify doing anything (or nothing).
But its release presents us with a risk and an opportunity.
The risk is a knee-jerk response to the right-wing freakout over the report, as prominent conservatives very civily call the ISG "surrender monkeys" and the "The Iraq Surrender Group."
Remember, the conservative movement has learned how to be very effective whiners.
They whine to set the parameters of debate, to pull the center of gravity of the debate towards the Right.
And the parameters of debate should not be solely between the ISG's mush and the right-wing's World War IV.
If we allow the ISG to be the sole counterpoint, we will be making continued occupation -- with tens of thousands of US troops "imbedded" in Iraqi units indefinitely -- the only "liberal" argument allowed in "civil" discussion.
And then, if Dubya plays up an ISG-style quasi-withdrawal as a real step forward -- despite all the troops that'll be sticking around -- we will have little ground to argue for a better approach.
We must avoid that risk by refusing to blindly glorify the ISG and its report, and sticking to our core principles -- credible democracy, not "pretend to leave" and permanent occupation.
The opportunity is a fresh chance to articulate a comprehensive Democratic approach to the Iraq and the region.
The ISG may have offered a disjointed diplomatic proposal overall, but it has re-legitimized the basic idea of diplomacy.
It is now politically easier to craft initiatives that involve negotiations with Iran, engaging with all parties in Iraq instead of picking favorites (note: the ISG backs talks with Moqtada al-Sadr among other Iraqi leaders), and resolving the Israel-Arab conflict.
Much like how -- as argued in Wait! Don't Move To Canada! -- it is easier for liberals to articulate a foreign policy vision based on promoting credible democracy, and not on blowing people up, because Dubya found it necessary to use liberal rhetoric to cloak a conservative foreign policy.
It may be frustrating to hear Dubya misuse liberal rhetoric, but it also helped legitimze counterterrorism strategies that are not solely based on brute force.
And it may be frustrating to see empty bipartisanship so blindly hailed, but we can exploit some of the ripple effects.
They have an opportunity to lead, to widen the debate, to talk about more than just mere tactics, but how Democratic objectives in the Gulf region are distinct from and superior to Republican objectives.
If they do, they can show how a fundamental change in strategy can bring about national security and global stability, and how only new leadership in the Oval Office can make that change happen.