Thursday, December 07, 2006

The President's response to the ISG

President Bush clears the air. The Iraq Study Group's report will guide the change in strategy that the Administration and Congress will propose. But neither of them will implement every recommendation, in spite of Mr. Baker's exhortion.

Iran and Syria may engage in the process if they clean their own house first.

The WP covers the briefing:

President Bush said today that the United States needs "a new approach" in Iraq, but he implicitly rejected a key recommendation of a bipartisan panel that issued a hard-hitting report yesterday: the holding of direct talks with Iran and Syria independently of other issues.

In a joint White House news conference with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush hailed the report by the Iraq Study Group as "very constructive" and "worthy of serious study." However, he also noted that it was just one of several studies to consider in determining "the way forward" in Iraq. And he said that neither Congress nor his administration would "accept every recommendation" in the report.

The study group, chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), called for a fundamental shift of the U.S. mission in Iraq from combat to training and for a "new diplomatic offensive" to prevent Iraq from sliding into chaos and to deal with the broader Middle Eastern issue of Arab-Israeli peace. The report advocated bringing all of Iraq's neighbors into negotiations, including Iran and Syria, "without preconditions."

Baker and Hamilton said the recommendations were part of a comprehensive plan that could work if it is implemented in its entirety and not piecemeal.

Bush said he discussed the report with Blair, along with "the reviews that are being conducted by the Pentagon and the State Department and our National Security Council." He said he and Blair agreed that it is important to achieve "victory in Iraq," a term that the study group avoided in its report.

He also said Blair informed him of a visit he plans to make soon to the Middle East to talk to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new effort to move the peace process forward. "I support the mission because it's important for us to advance the cause of two states living side by side in peace," Bush said.

Blair told Bush at the news conference that regarding Iraq, "I, like you, welcome the Baker-Hamilton study group. It offers a strong way forward. I think it is important now we concentrate on the elements that are necessary to make sure that we succeed -- because the consequences of failure are severe."

MSM, as indicated even in this report, will spin this as the President's "eat crow" moment. Reality ain't that simple.

The ISG's report had some laudable counsel. It also offered ridiculous advice. Captain Ed has broken down the report here and here.

My take? Simple: Use what works to make a practical plan that works.

The Administration and Congress can't punt this policy to the ISG. Mr. Baker believes that their plan must be implemented whole-sale in order to work. Ludicrous. Iran and Syria can't be treated as responsible partners for peace when they've actively and passively participated in Iraq's current strife. Israel can't be made to give away the farm and not receive any benefit for it whatsoever. The US can't in good conscience or sound interest cut and run or impose artificial time-tables: abandoning the Iraqis ain't an option! Now that the ISG has spoken, the elected government of the people needs to form a plan.

They had better not offer up a Beltway-esque mock-up that only plays well among their interest groups. Americans and Iraqis alike won't stand for it. We all pay if Washington plays.

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