It won't be quick or easy. But, surprisingly, there are at least some ideas
James A. Baker III delights in delivering the long-ball play. In his newly released memoir, he describes the "sweet payoff" of getting Syria and other recalcitrant Arab nations to attend the 1991 Madrid peace conference. After putting together a broad Arab and international coalition to wage the first Gulf War, Baker, secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, wanted to "capitalize on the momentum of this first-ever experience with regional cooperation in the Middle East." In many ways, Baker is taking up old business again today in his job as cochair of the Iraq Study Group that is soon to present its formula for stopping the bleeding from the sucking chest wound that the Iraq war has become.
The difficulties are even more daunting this time as violence threatens to spiral out of control. The Iraq Study Group--10 former cabinet officials, senators, counselors, and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor--is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and is "at loggerheads" in its deliberations, says a Baker aide. But Baker and his cochair, longtime Democratic legislator Lee Hamilton, remain committed to reaching a bipartisan consensus on their recommendations to find a way to end the 3 ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ½-year-old war that has cost nearly 3,000 American lives and taken tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. President Bush has said he looks forward to the group's report, and he has launched his own review of Iraq policy. The Pentagon is also conducting a review of its military options.
The debate over Iraq has spawned a welter of proposals for new policies, but something like a consensus position has begun to emerge on some key issues, including the need for a political settlement and diplomatic overtures to Iraq's neighbors. On the hot-button issue of U.S. troop levels, however--whether, when, and how many should be withdrawn from Iraq--sharp disagreement remains. Yet even there, a middle-ground position might be fashioned to win support from moderates on both sides of the aisle and from the White House. With a new Iraq policy, almost inevitably, will come new faces. The Pentagon is getting a new boss, and replacements for the U.S. ambassador and top military commander in Iraq are being discussed. Even with a new policy, however, one sober-minded former U.S. official cautions, "it may be too late for any strategy to work."
If the Baker group fails, it won't be for lack of trying. For the past six months, dozens of academic experts provided proposals and analysis to the group. The experts lined up behind two main options and wrote papers titled "Stability First" and "Redeploy and Contain." According to experts interviewed by U.S. News, the former paper called for a focus on stabilizing Baghdad and an effort to reach an accommodation with the insurgents rather than defeating them. The latter favored withdrawing U.S. troops on a timetable and taking military and diplomatic steps to contain Iraq's violence within its borders.
When word of the two papers leaked, Baker and Hamilton reacted immediately. The experts were cut out of the loop and thereafter used as a resource to provide further information to commissioners in writing. Baker, who had been out promoting his memoir, stopped granting interviews. The rest of the panel also stopped talking to the press. The cochairs and their aides wrote their own draft report and guarded its contents closely. Nonetheless, in several dozen interviews, U.S. News has pieced together this account of the group's deliberations, the evolving search for an alternative policy, and the administration's response to the mounting pressure for an exit strategy.