President Bush missed an opportunity to find some success in Iraq by failing to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, panel co-chairman Lee Hamilton says.
Some of the panel's key recommendations could still be implemented, but a "substantial" number of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for an extended period, Hamilton says.
"I do not expect that the United States will simply totally pull out of Iraq, even within a timeframe, say, of a year or two," the former Indiana congressman said in an NPR interview.
As senators engage in renewed debate over the president's Iraq policy, some are looking to the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, which were issued in December, to guide policy.
Renee Montagne spoke with Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
It has been more than six months since the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group were delivered. Can these recommendations still be implemented?
Yes. I think the primary recommendations we made could still be implemented. Those recommendations are to shift the primary mission of U.S. forces from combat to training Iraqi forces; secondly, make U.S. economic and political support for the Iraqi government conditional on Iraq's progress in meeting specific benchmarks. The third recommendation was to launch a diplomatic offensive in the region. In each case you see progress toward our recommendations but not fully incorporating them.
By not implementing, some of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, has the president missed an opportunity to accomplish the mission, if you will, in Iraq?
I think the president looked upon the Iraq Study Group report seriously. I don't think he accepted our basic recommendations. I personally feel he missed an opportunity to bring the country together. I don't think you can have success, however you might define that, so long as the political leadership of the country is so sharply divided.
So, the Iraq Study Group report can certainly be criticized. But one of its merits surely was that it was bipartisan, and so far as I know, it's the only bipartisan proposal out there. And I think it still does have a reasonable chance of bringing about a unity of effort which is required for the success of our policy in Iraq.
In your opinion, how now does the country get that unity of effort that you speak of?
Well, it's not a very precise process, even messy, I guess to some extent. But you can see the Congress and the president struggling towards it. Congress has clearly wanted to put pressure on the president to change his policy, but they have not succeeded. The president is beginning, I think, to recognize that he cannot achieve victory. Back in 2005, he was saying that he would settle for nothing less than victory. But, in any event, bringing together a country on a policy that divides the country as sharply as the Iraq war has is not done with a single vote in the Congress. It's done over a period of time gradually, painfully and you're seeing that process now.
What about getting U.S. troops out of Iraq? Do you see that happening ultimately, or will there be U.S. troops in Iraq for a very long time?
I think U.S. troops will be in Iraq for an extended period of time. It will require a substantial number — not the number you have now, but a substantial number of U.S. forces. I do not expect that the United States will simply totally pull out of Iraq, even within a timeframe, say, of a year or two.
Substantial, is there a figure that you can attach to that?
I, personally, am very leery of very specific numbers being written into law. I think you have to recognize that events can change on the ground and you have to be prepared. What is important here is that we make it very clear that the policy of the United States government is to responsibly exit from that country. And the details, I think, should not be spelled out too specifically.