National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Blue-Ribbon Panel Rules Out Quick Troop Withdrawal

WASHINGTON — The blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group has told the American people they can look forward to more war and bloodshed in Iraq for at least another year.

The bipartisan panel headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., ruled out any troop withdrawals before early 2008. Incidentally, that’s an election year.

The 10-member commission said that there is a "grave and deteriorating" situation in Iraq and there is "no magic formula" for success (the Bush administration’s new substitute word for victory) in Iraq.

The panelists spent nine months interviewing a wide range of experts and government officials and then privately pondered. They came to the disheartening conclusion that they didn’t really know what to do but that something new was needed because present U.S. policies weren’t working.

"No one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq at this point will stop sectarian warfare, growing violence or a slide toward chaos," Baker and Hamilton wrote. At another point in their report, the commissioners note: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved."

The panel urged the Iraqis to make substantial progress toward providing for their own security under the threat that the U.S. will reduce its "political, military or economic support."

This is the equivalent of the U.S. telling them: "We broke it — now you fix it."

Funny thing, U.S. officials seem to forget America invaded Iraq for reasons that failed the truth test. And now they chide Iraqis for being ingrates and not democratizing fast enough under U.S. military occupation.

A recommendation for an outreach to neighboring Syria and Iran to help stabilize strife-ridden Iraq would be a new approach, but Bush has rejected this idea in the past.

The problem is that many Iraqis view the U.S.-occupier as the enemy, hence the car bombings, kidnappings and mayhem.

The president praised the panel for its bipartisanship, saying the nation is tired of "political bickering," but gave no indication of how he will deal with its 79 recommendations.

The question of war and peace seems to have boiled down to the decision of the president, who calls himself the "decider," even though the mid-term elections have been widely interpreted as a decision by the American people that the U.S. should leave Iraq.

Bush has said he is not looking for a "graceful exit." (Is he aiming for an "ungraceful exit"?)

But he is dreaming if he thinks there is not a growing consensus in the country that will force the U.S. departure sooner rather than later.

Bush is being bombarded with other assessments within the administration, including a Pentagon report from Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on possible options for Bush to peruse. I suspect the White House ordered that report to take the edge off any unpalatable recommendations in the Baker-Hamilton report.

Fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also wrote a memo a couple of days before his ouster in which he called for a "major adjustment" in tactics in Iraq. This is the same Pentagon chief who has happy-talked his way through more than three years of a terrible war.

Rumsfeld’s memo seemed to me like his attempt to get ahead of the parade and make it look like he wasn’t being repudiated by the Baker-Hamilton panel’s call for "a new way forward" in Iraq.

Almost everyone — except for a few diehards — knows it’s all over for the U.S. in Iraq.

If Congress steps up to the plate, there are other ideas out there.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is calling on Congress to cut off funding for the war and to spend the money in the pipeline to bring the troops home immediately.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has proposed legislation to bring the troops home by next July 1. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., recommends getting all U.S. forces out of Iraq within six to eight months.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the first to call for a pull out wants to redeploy the troops consistent with their safety.

White House officials have indicated it may be weeks before Bush decides on the new way forward in Iraq. But one thing is certain: The new way forward has to lead to an exit sign or Iraq will remain in shambles.


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