Former Secretary of State James Baker (right) meets with Presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in 2005
The Iraq Study Group, set to meet with the president on Monday, may offer more in the way of political cover than genuine solutions to the problems facing Iraq. According to Iraq experts familiar with the panel’s work, many of its recommendations either have already been attempted or are unlikely to succeed.
Those familiar with the panel’s work predict that the ultimate recommendations will not appear novel and that there are few, if any, good options left facing the country. Many of the ideas reportedly being considered—more aggressive regional diplomacy with Syria and Iran, greater emphasis on training Iraqi troops, or focusing on a new political deal between warring Shiites and Sunni—have either been tried or have limited chances of success, in the view of many experts on Iraq. Baker is also exploring whether a broader U.S. initiative in tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict is needed to help stabilize the region.
Given the grave predicament the group faces, its focus is now as much on finding a political solution for the United States as on a plan that would bring peace to Iraq. With Republicans and Democrats so bitterly divided over the war, Baker and Hamilton believe that it is key that their group produce a consensus plan, according to those who have spoken with them.
That could appeal to both parties. Democrats would have something to support after a campaign in which they criticized Bush’s Iraq policy without offering many specifics of their own. And with support for its Iraq policy fast evaporating even within its own party, the White House might find in the group’s plan either a politically acceptable exit strategy or a cover for a continued effort to prop up the new democratically-elected government in Baghdad.