Members of the Iraq Study Group won't say that Iraq is already lost, but neither will they say that there's any guaranteed path to achieving even the reduced goals the president now has for his war. That much we knew after reading the ISG's report. But if you want a real view of the pessimism of the ISG's leaders, check out what they had to say Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
James Baker gave what sure sounded like a lukewarm endorsement of the plan his group spent eight months putting together: "We think it's worth a try." Asked about the downsides of engaging Syria and Iran, Lee Hamilton said: "You don't have much to lose here. Things are not going in a very good direction right now, and why not take some chance here in involving these countries?"
Hamilton was asked if Iraq was at the point of no return. "We're perilously close to that point," he said.
As we noted Thursday, the ISG's assessment may be news to the White House, but it's not exactly a shocker for the American public. A new AP-Ipsos poll out this morning confirms as much. The poll was taken Monday through Wednesday -- which is to say, mostly before the ISG's assessment became public -- but it found that 63 percent of Americans no longer expect that a stable democratic government will be created in Iraq. Just 9 percent expect the war to end in some sort of "clear cut victory"; 87 percent say they expect some kind of compromise resolution.
As for how the president is handling Iraq? An incredible 71 percent of the public now disapproves, and Ohio State political scientist John Mueller tells the AP that that number isn't likely to get better, ever. Once people "drop off the bandwagon, it's unlikely they'll say 'I'm for it' again," he said.
What are they for? When it comes to the military side of the equation, they seem to favor a timeline that's a little shorter than what the ISG recommended and far different from what the White House is probably envisioning. More than 70 percent of the respondents said they want U.S. troops out of Iraq no later than sometime in 2008, and 60 percent said they want U.S. troops out within six months.