Iraq Study Group Deserves the Highest Praise

This morning a number of Congressional leaders were briefed by the Iraq Study Group, headed by James Baker and our colleague, former Congressman Lee Hamilton.  We were impressed with the scope of the much-anticipated report by the Baker-Hamilton commission, but it remains to be seen if their diligent work has a long-term impact among the key players in the Administration.

On November 7 the Administration was dramatically forced to sit up and pay attention to Americans' anger and frustration about its failed policies in Iraq; I only hope that the White House will find the wisdom to carefully consider the Baker-Hamilton commission's advice now.  This advice is fully in line with what Democratic Congressional leaders have been telling the White House for many months: Training and support of Iraqi forces must be stepped up, and it is time to start the process of redeploying the U.S. troops currently assigned there.

I commend the Commission for its recommendation that we engage all regional players. I firmly believe in conducting dialogue even with people with whom we disagree. That is why I have met with the current leaders of Syria and North Korea -- and why I have repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought a visa to visit Iran. As we engage, we will seek common ground, but we must remain steadfast in our core values and commitments. We will not bargain over nuclear arms, or terrorism, or the security of the state of Israel, or Lebanese sovereignty, or the investigation of the Hariri and Gemayel assassinations.

There is no basis to conclude that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem is central to resolving Iraq. These two issues, both difficult to resolve, must not be artificially conflated. The status of the Palestinians does not prompt Shiites and Sunnis to engage in reciprocal mass assassinations in Iraq. There are many sound reasons to encourage serious efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian problem.  Iraq is not one of them.

The Baker-Hamilton commission has done a tremendous public service by giving careful, impartial consideration to one of the most complex matters of our times.  The issue involved have divided Americans and been the source of frustration for far too long.  But with today's report we have a bipartisan basis on which to try to form consensus on the best way to reorient our Iraq policy.