James Baker's Iraq Study Group won't release its recommendations until after the November elections have come and gone, but we're starting to get at least a sense of what the group has in mind and how the White House will respond. Short version: Change the plan, and who are you to tell us?
The New York Sun reported last week that Baker's group is considering two "option papers," one called "Stability First" and the other dubbed "Redeploy and Contain." The first option argues that the U.S. military should focus on making Baghdad safer while American diplomats work toward a political deal with insurgents. The second option calls for a phased withdrawal from Iraq. What neither option envisions: the victory in Iraq -- let alone the establishment of a lasting Democratic government -- that George W. Bush continues to promise.
An official familiar with the group's thinking confirms for the Associated Press what has become pretty obvious: The group won't be endorsing the president's strategy. "Bush's rhetoric is all stay the course and this one isn't going to be about stay the course. It's about fixing the course we're on," the official says. One expert advising the group, former Coalition Provisional Authority advisor Larry Diamond, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that the United States has, at most, a few months to implement a new strategy before Iraq spirals entirely out of control. His recommendation: renounce plans for any permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, then begin to negotiate with the insurgents. "That's the only thing that's going to demonstrate that we're really changing course," Diamond says.
Would the White House be open to such an approach? Not before November, of course, and maybe not after, either. Tony Snow said earlier this week that the White House isn't about to "outsource the business of handling the war in Iraq," and Dick Cheney made it clear Tuesday that he doesn't think there's any need to do so. The Iraqi government is "off to a good start," the vice president said in an interview with Rush Limbaugh. "If you look at the general overall situation, they're doing remarkably well."