George W. Bush didn't care much for the work produced by the last commission James Baker chaired. He probably won't like the results from the next one any better. The University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs has just announced that Baker and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher will chair a commission to study "how the Constitution allocates the powers of beginning, conducting, and ending war."
We don't want to prejudge the commission's work, and the Miller Center's launch announcement declares that the group's efforts will be "entirely prospective in nature and not applicable to the present presidential Administration or present Congress." Still, we couldn't help noticing that the commission is well stocked with Washington worthies whose advice on Iraq the president has all but ignored so far.
There's Baker and Iraq Study Group co-chairman Lee Hamilton, from whose Iraq recommendations the White House cherry-picked a troop surge while rejecting just about everything else. There's Christopher, who warned, a year before the war began, that invading Iraq without proof of strong ties to 9/11 would "fragment the existing anti-terrorism coalition." There's Strobe Talbott, who, urging more diplomacy and greater cooperation with the U.N., has called the war in Iraq "the high-water mark of Bush unilateralism and the low-water mark of America's standing in the world's eyes." And then there's the ultimate burr in Bush's saddle: Brent Scowcroft, who warned against starting the war and has since talked openly of an administration that has lost its way in handling it.
Yes, there's some balance on the commission. Former GOP Sen. Slade Gorton is there, as is former Attorney General Ed Meese -- but even Meese has been critical, as a member of the Iraq Study Group, of the way the White House has handled Iraq. The real consolation for the president: The commission's work will be unofficial and, of course, nonbinding, and the current Congress seems increasingly incapable of rising to the challenge anyway.