Debating the fate of the Iraq Study Group report has become, for now, Washington’s favorite parlor game. Senator John Kerry has said the report will “change the debate in this country.” Time has predicted President Bush will follow the commission's advice. But responding to earlier leaks of the report, Bush peevishly said its plan for a gradual withdrawal “has no realism to it whatsoever,” while Rep. John Murtha, a leading opponent of the war, called it “unacceptable” because it would leave U.S. troops in Iraq.
A Turning Point
The Iraq Study Group may be remembered as the Walter Cronkite of this war. By James Fallows
Blind to Choice
Bing West comments on the military's reaction to the Iraq Study Group Report.
The Iraq Study Group
A reaction. By Robert D. Kaplan
A collection of articles and dispatches by Atlantic authors.
All of which raises an important question: when are commissions likely to induce policy change? History suggests that the success or failure of advisory panels hangs on several factors: political timing, the reputation and affiliations of commission members, whether the report is unanimous, and how much the panel lobbies for its proposals.
The federal government started employing commissions on economic and social issues as the regulatory state grew after the turn of the 20th century. National security commissions became a regular feature of the political landscape several decades later. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed one of the first such panels to investigate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (In 2000 Congress revisited that panel’s report and voted to exonerate the military's top two officers in Hawaii at the time of the attack, Husband Kimmel and Walter Short.) Since 1980, the President, Congress, and Cabinet secretaries have often turned to national security panels, creating more than sixty commissions on issues such as the Iran-contra scandal, the assignment of women to combat units, and the intelligence community's post-Cold War mission.