Saturday, May 26, 2007

President Bush to Embrace Iraq Study Group Report

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported that President Bush was planning on adopting the Iraq Study Group's policy recommendations for major policy shifts on the Iraq War:

President Bush said Thursday that once his troop buildup improved security in the Iraqi capital, he intended to follow the withdrawal plan proposed by a bipartisan study group, embracing recommendations previously spurned by the administration.

Speaking at a White House news conference, Bush for the first time adopted the blueprint outlined in December by the Iraq Study Group, saying he envisioned U.S. troops gradually moving out of their combat role and into support and training functions.

"You know, I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in time in Iraq," Bush said, referring to the study group by the names of its co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind). "The recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appealed to me.

"Bush's remarks were the clearest yet on his vision for the long-term U.S. role in Iraq.

It also represented a significant shift in his public position on the study group's recommendations, which when they were unveiled were embraced by war critics but largely ignored by the White House....

Some congressional Republicans welcomed Bush's stance.

Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a bellwether of the party's position on the war, said he wanted Bush to move more quickly in carrying out the study group's recommendations, suggesting the White House shift its strategy as soon as July....

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has suggested that a reduction in troops could begin as soon as September, when the Pentagon has promised a formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the buildup, particularly if significant progress has been made.

On Thursday, Gates declined to say when a shift would occur."It remains to be seen," he said at a news briefing. He said plans for a reduction are underway as part of a contingency effort he ordered several months ago.

When Bush unveiled his troop buildup in January, it was seen as a repudiation of the Iraq Study Group.

Since then, several key Republicans have questioned the administration's strategy as public support for the war continues to fall.

The piece refers specifically to the results of the new New York Times poll on public support for the Iraq invasion. The Times poll finds:

Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the invasion more than four years ago, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Sixty-one percent of Americans say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq and 76 percent say things are going badly there, including 47 percent who say things are going very badly, the poll found.
Here's a key point though, which perhaps the administration should emphasize more:

Still, the majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals.
Get that everyone (including congressional Democrats): A majority of Americans are willing to give the administration a chance -- there's no public call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, specifically if the Maliki regime in Baghdad can get its act together in hammering out some political differences among the various sectarian parties.

Having said that, the political timetable on the Ameircan side is not very long.
Miltary experts are saying the U.S. can defeat the insurgency, but it could take years. But we don't have that time. John Mueller, a top expert on war and public opinion, says that sustained casualties of American personnel in a long deployment will cause a steady decline in support over time, as has happened in past wars, particularly Vietnam. Mueller's conclusions were challenged by another opinion expert, Christopher Gelpi (who stresses that support will rise as Americans see positive, successful results on the ground), but so far I think the Mueller thesis is winning out.

I didn't read the Iraq Study Group's report, but it was widely ridiculed among some foreign policy experts,
like Eliot Cohen of John Hopkins University. See also my post, "Critics of Baker Study Return Fire From the Right," on the conservative backlash against the Baker Group's recommendations. Again, I did not read the report, but there was a whole lot of discussion about how the U.S. should be engaging in diplomacy with Syria and Iran, which would be totally counterproductive as long as those two states remaind the main conduits for al Qaeda operatives and military ordnance heading into Iraq (go back up and click the Cohen piece for more argument along these lines).

No comments: