As we all digest the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, the only question that really matters is whether George W. Bush is willing to embrace any course other than the one he's already on. Among the study group's members, one -- James Baker -- probably has a better read on that question than anyone else. It's probably not a good sign that Baker wouldn't address it today.
At the Iraq Study Group's just-completed press conference, a reporter noted that the group's members had "considerable experience" in "helping presidents change course" and asked Baker what the group could or would do to "help Bush embrace the wisdom" of its report. Baker's response? A punt. "I think it would be appropriate for President Clinton's former chief of staff to answer that question."
Leon Panetta took to the microphone to say that he thinks Bush "understands that he won't be able to achieve the policy goals he wants if the country remains divided."
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor chimed in to say that the problem of what comes next is "really out of our hands" now that the group's report is done -- and that it's the media's job now to bring the country together behind Bush's goal of standing up an Iraqi government that can sustain and defend itself. "It's up to you, frankly," O'Connor told the reporters in the room. "You are the people who speak to the American people."
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson followed along with a rambling lament about the lack of bipartisanship in Washington and expressed hope that the group's consensus proposals might serve as a model for working together better. "Maybe it's corny, maybe it won't work, but it's sure as hell better than sitting there," he said.
Yes, but what about changing Bush?
Baker was asked the question again -- can the president really "pull a 180" on Iraq? Once again, he declined to answer. "I've worked for four presidents," he said, "and I never put presidents I work for on the couch. I'm not going to answer that because that would mean I'd have to psychoanalyze the inner workings of his mind, and I don't do that."