Baker and Hamilton See Iraq's Future

Former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, back from a fact-finding trip to Baghdad, outline their views about how America can extricate itself from the Iraq quagmire.


President Bush has been famously reluctant to acknowledge mistakes in Iraq or to open the door to changes in his Iraq policy. But he will soon be getting some advice from an old family friend whose counsel will be hard to ignore. James Baker, who served as secretary of state under George H. W. Bush, is co-chairing a bipartisan study group that's examining the situation in Iraq and making recommendations for future policy there.

As NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, the group is already sounding an alarm.

TOM GJELTEN: Former Secretary of State James Baker has already made clear he thinks the current Bush administration has made mistakes in Iraq. The difficulty of winning the peace was severely underestimated, he wrote in a soon to be published memoir. But now he says he and the other members of the Iraq Study Group are ignoring past errors and looking to what can be done in Iraq from here on.

Mr. JAMES BAKER (Co-chair, Iraq Study Group): We're going to come with some rather specific and detailed recommendations. We're going to present these to the administration, to the Congress and to the public.

GJELTEN: Baker's partner is former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who previously co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. Other heavy hitters in the group include former Defense Secretary William Perry, former CIA Director Robert Gates, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former Attorney General Edwin Meese.

Earlier this month the group spent four days in Iraq meeting with dozens of Iraqi leaders, as well as with U.S. military commanders. At a news conference today, Baker and Hamilton said they would not be releasing their official assessment of the Iraq situation or their policy recommendations until after the mid-term U.S. elections in November in order to keep their report out of the political debate.

But Hamilton said he and Baker came away from Iraq convinced that if the government in Baghdad does not act quickly, it could lose the support of the Iraqi and the American people.

Mr. LEE HAMILTON (Co-chair, Iraq Study Group): The government of Iraq must act. The government of Iraq needs to show its own citizens soon and the citizens of the United States that it is deserving of continued support. The next three months are critical. Before the end of this year, this government needs to show progress in securing Baghdad, pursuing national reconciliation and delivering basic services.

GJELTEN: By giving the Iraqi leadership a deadline of sorts by which it must show significant improvement in its capabilities, the study group could be preparing the way to recommend major U.S. policy changes in the event those goals are not met. Baker said the group was determined to reach a bipartisan consensus. Hamilton said the group would be guided only by what it felt was best for the country.

Mr. HAMILTON: This is a very tough problem. The options are limited. There is no silver bullet. There is no magic formula.

GJELTEN: The Iraq Study Group was set up and funded at the request of the U.S. Congress. After meeting with the group's members in June, President Bush said he expected the group to give him advice, quote, "about the proper strategies and tactics to achieve success in Iraq."

James Baker said today he feels the group does have the administration's support.

Mr. BAKER: You can't go to Baghdad unless you have support from the administration, so they're helping us with people, they're helping us with documents, they're helping us with travel and all of that and they've approved of this process.

GJELTEN: It could be several months, however, before the group makes its recommendations public. Baker said he and Hamilton have promised only to be finished by next March.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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