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Return fire from the right

The idea of talks with Iran and Syria riles many conservatives. Some say the focus was on an exit, not a victory.

December 08, 2006|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh called it "The Iraq Surrender Group."

The conservative New York Post tabloid doctored a front-page photo to depict the co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group in primate fur, under the headline "Surrender Monkeys," inspired by a frequently quoted line from "The Simpsons."

And conservative commentator William J. Bennett vented in volcanic fashion. "In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority," Bennett wrote on the National Review website. "Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible."

Howls of protest echoed across the right side of the political spectrum as conservatives voiced dismay with the findings of the bipartisan Iraq panel, released Wednesday.

The commission's report depicts Iraq as a country sliding into chaos, saying conditions are "grave and deteriorating."

Many conservatives agree with that assessment. But the report's other findings and recommendations, which declare the approach they have backed for nearly four years all but bankrupt, clearly struck a nerve with the most ardent supporters of the war.

That diagnosis has compounded the pain for conservatives who saw voters turn control of both chambers of Congress over to Democrats last month, largely because of mounting frustration with the war in Iraq.

Conservatives were particularly incensed at the study group's recommendation that the United States engage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as part of a broad new diplomatic push to enlist other countries, even those that see themselves as enemies of the United States, to try to solve the Iraq problem.

That advice is particularly difficult to swallow for neoconservatives and others who believe U.S. diplomacy should be grounded in a moralistic view of the world, as opposed to the more pragmatic and compromising "realist" approach championed by the Iraq Study Group's most prominent members. The group's chairmen are Republican former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana.

Conservative bloggers pounded away at this point.

"We are fighting the spread of radical Islamist terrorism, and the two major production centers for that very problem are Tehran and Damascus," read a posting on the conservative site captainsquartersblog.com. "Holding a regional conference with them to determine anything but their surrender in that war only encourages the spread of the terrorism that we seek to end."

Others, including influential conservative editorialist William Kristol, accused the study group of focusing its nine months of study on how to extricate the United States from Iraq, rather than how to win.

"They do not engage that debate, and I think that's deeply irresponsible," Kristol said. "If they think the war cannot now be won, they need to explain that."

There was heated rhetoric from the left as well. Democrats generally praised the group's findings but took advantage of the report's release to renew their criticism of the Bush administration.

In discussing the report, former Vice President Al Gore called the invasion of Iraq the "worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States." He made his comment during an appearance on NBC's "Today Show."

But conservatives were especially riled by the report's seemingly deliberate omission of any reference to Bush administration ideals, such as spreading democracy across the Islamic world.

"It was about as interesting as a small-town phone book," said Danielle Pletka, a vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, on Fox News. "I was amazed by the report. There were very few concrete suggestions. There were very few deep ideas. And there were very, very few plans for victory."

They also chafed at public praise that the commission's 10 members -- five Democrats and five Republicans -- overcame political pressure to reach agreement.

"Does history really give a hoot about bipartisanship? Who cares whether they are getting along?" asked Limbaugh on his radio show Thursday. "Show me the book in the library, 'Great Bipartisanship in American History.' "

greg.miller@latimes.com

Times staff writers Joel Havemann and Moises Mendoza in Washington contributed to this report.

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