Bush Says He Will Take Iraq Report Seriously in Deliberations

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - President Bush welcomed the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) December 6, saying his administration would take seriously the group’s recommendations for revising U.S. policies in Iraq.

“It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion,” he told reporters after meeting with the 10-member group at the White House.  He said the report offers “an opportunity to come together and to work together on this important issue.”

ISG co-chair Lee Hamilton welcomed Bush’s initial reaction to the report.  In a press conference later in the day, he said that if this attitude prevails, the administration, the Congress and the American people will be able to unite behind a common policy.  Fellow ISG member Leon Panetta underscored the importance of unity on this issue.  “I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we're divided,” he said.

The report characterizes the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and lays out three major recommendations to address the problem.  First, it says the United States should change the nature of its military mission from a combat operation to a support operation.  The report recommends embedding U.S. advisers at every level of the Iraqi army and allowing the Iraqis to take the lead.  With that, it says, the United States should be able to withdraw the bulk of its forces by early 2008.

Second, the report says the United States must encourage the Iraqi government to make significant progress toward milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance.  It says, “The most important questions about Iraq’s future are now the responsibility of the Iraqis” and adds that the United States should reduce its political, economic and military support for the Iraqi government if it fails to achieve these goals.

Third, the group calls for diplomatic efforts to bring all the countries of the region and major world powers together to act as an international support group aimed at reinforcing security and national reconciliation within Iraq.  According to the report, this would include diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran, a policy the Bush administration has resisted until now.  The report says it is a matter of appealing to every country’s national interest.  “No country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq,” it says.

Hamilton defended the group’s recommendation of engaging with Iran. “Iran probably today is the national power that has the single greatest influence inside Iraq. … We will be criticized, I'm sure, for talking with our adversaries, but I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them,” he said.

Fellow ISG co-chair James Baker said Iran might refuse to engage in discussions but added, “We ought to put it to them … so that the world will see the rejectionist attitude that they are projecting by that action.”

Congressional Democrats welcomed the report as a positive step toward a new strategy in Iraq.  Incoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden said, “The most significant thing about the report is it has moved the debate in a fundamental way from not if, but when and how we move our forces in Iraq, and not if, but how we engage the region, knowing that the region has as much to lose as we do if there's a complete collapse in Iraq and total chaos.”

Incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin saw the report as a vindication of his call to reduce the number of U.S. forces in an effort to encourage the Iraqi government to resolve its political problems.

Biden regretted that the ISG did not recommend a devolution of authority in security matters to Iraq’s provincial governments, a proposal he has advocated for several months.  He argues that this measure, provided for in Iraq’s Constitution, would take pressure off of a weak central government and improve the security situation.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush has an “obligation” to the country to implement the ISG recommendations.  “And we're going to be watching very closely after the first of the year, with oversight hearings … what the Bush administration does.  On behalf of the American people, I certainly hope that the president follows the recommendations of this study group,” he said.

Not all members of Congress were equally enthusiastic about the report’s recommendations.  Outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner said, “We will not accomplish victory by setting arbitrary deadlines or negotiating with hostile governments,” referring to two of the group's key recommendations.