The Baker/Hamilton Commission

THE BAKER/HAMILTON COMMISSION….Last month we printed a story by Bob Dreyfuss about the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan team headed by longtime Bush family friend James A. Baker III and former 9/11 Commission chair Lee Hamilton. Their charter is to figure out what to do in Iraq, but the ISG’s work has been done under such a heavy veil of secrecy that no one has much of an idea of what they’ll recommend. Nonetheless, there were clues, and our piece ended with this quote:

“The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible,” another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president “like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, ‘Look, my friend, it’s time to change.'”

Today, Eli Lake at the New York Sun says that the ISG met with its expert working groups on Monday and were told pretty much the same thing:

According to participants in that meeting, the two chairmen received a blunt assessment this week of viable options for America in Iraq that boiled down to two choices.

One plan would have America begin its exit from Iraq through a phased withdrawal similar to that proposed this spring by Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat of Pennsylvania and former Marine. Another would have America make a last push to internationalize the military occupation of Iraq and open a high-level dialogue with Syria and Iran to persuade them to end their state-sanctioned policy of aiding terrorists who are sabotaging the elected government in Baghdad.

….The Iraq Study Group is likely to be as influential as the 9/11 commission, which Mr. Hamilton cochaired with a former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Keane. While the Iraq panel is not charged with assigning blame on past policy failures, as the 9/11 commission was, it does have the ability to give new legitimacy to a withdrawal strategy and force the administration’s hand on policy.

So: Bush should either plan to withdraw from Iraq or else open up talks with Syria and Iran. It’s hard to know which of those two options he’d loathe the most, and even with Baker delivering the bad news it’s hard to see Bush agreeing to either course. By the time the ISG delivers its recommendations officially, though, he might not have much of a choice.