No New Ideas in Iraq Study Group Report

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The long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group contains many ideas we have heard before, but nothing that can be characterized as a breakthrough. NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr anaylzes the report.

DANIEL SCHORR: Defense secretary designate Robert Gates won high marks for candor but not for helpless when he testified yesterday, frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Indeed, the long-awaited report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, a marvel of nine months of bipartisan effort contains many ideas we've heard before but nothing that could be characterized as a breakthrough. Phased withdrawal of American combat units and their build-up of training units, yes, we've heard that.

Reduction of economic and military aid to the Maliki government if it doesn't exert more pressure to improve security within a certain timeframe, sounds a little familiar. Formation of an international support group including Syria and Iran, yes, but aren't they posing unacceptable conditions for their cooperation.

Dividing Iraq into three entities that would be a formula for a broad-based civil war, yes, a lot of experts are saying that. The commission's report contains 79 recommendations but few of them likely to win early administration endorsement.

Indeed, the president wants it known that this long labor of bipartisanship is little more than a series of suggestions that he will consider along with a lot of other suggestions.

The commission's assertion that the Bush policy on Iraq is not working is not likely to endear the report to the president, but is likely to get a warmer reception from Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, because of his emphasis on redeployment of combat troops. That was the issue that dominated the November 7th election.

In any event, the new approach the title of the commission's report is likely to replace, stay the course in the national debate.

This is Daniel Schorr.

BLOCK: With all the talk about Iraq today, this final note, the U.S. military announced that 10 American soldiers were killed today in four separate incidents. A spokesman said some died in roadside bombings, others in combat, there were no other details. Since the invasion, more than 2,900 servicemen and women have been killed.

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Iraq Study Group: U.S. Policy 'Not Working'

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Iraq Study Group Co-Chairmen James A. Baker III, left, and Lee Hamilton

Iraq Study Group Co-Chairmen James A. Baker III, left, and Lee Hamilton conduct a news conference on Capitol Hill, Dec. 6, 2006. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Hear from Study Group Members

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Find out what President Bush and leaders on Capitol Hill had to say about the commission's recommendations.

A long-awaited report by the Iraq Study Group paints a bleak picture of the situation in Iraq. The 10-member, bipartisan panel says the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating" and could provoke a slide into chaos. The report, handed to President Bush and Congress Wednesday morning, lays out 79 recommendations to try to pull Iraq back from the brink.

The opening line sets a sober, grim tone: "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq."

It describes those problems as enormous: Violence in Iraq, fed by an insurgency, militias and crime, is increasing in scope and lethality. The Iraqi military and security forces are ineffective and corrupt. About 2,900 U.S. soldiers are dead so far, with another 21,000 wounded. There's no sign the situation will change anytime soon.

The panel's co-chairman, James Baker, the Republican who once served as a U.S. secretary of state, makes it clear the Bush administration's handling of the war is not working.

"We do not recommend a 'stay the course' solution," Baker said Wednesday. "In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable. "

In its report, the study group lays out three key recommendations.

First, the United States must help Iraqis take responsibility for their own destiny.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the Democrat from Indiana who serves as the other co-chairman of the group, says that the Bush administration must send a strong message to Iraqi leaders to make substantial progress on national reconciliation, security and improving daily lives of Iraqis.

"If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones, the United States then should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government," Hamilton said.

A second recommendation calls for a renewed, immediate push by the United States on the diplomatic front, including reviving Arab-Israeli peace talks and opening a dialogue with Iran and Syria.

The Bush administration has steadfastly refused to enter into talks with either country. Hamilton says both countries have enormous influence in the region and a lot of impact in Iraq.

"We will be criticized, I'm sure, for talking with our adversaries," Hamilton said. "But I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them."

Hamilton and Baker are skeptical that Iran will come to the negotiating table. Baker holds out more hope for dealing with Syria's leaders.

"They could... be in a position to help us and might want to help us," he said. "But we're specific in the report. There must be 10 or 11 or 12 things... that we will be asking of Syria... We're talking about tough diplomacy."

And the study group also recommends that the United States make a fundamental change in its military operations by gradually shifting its troops from combat missions to training and advising the Iraqi army.

The commission suggests a five-fold increase in the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis. That would mean 20,000 U.S. trainers instead of the current 4,000. If all goes well, the report suggests, combat troops could begin leaving Iraq in early 2008.

Study group member Charles Robb — the Democrat who served Virginia as a U.S. senator and governor — says "embedding our forces at greater levels in the Iraqi military" will create "more capacity, more trust, more capability in the Iraqi forces."

Robb says a number of U.S. military officials agree that more trainers are needed.

The Pentagon, State Department and the National Security Council are due to release Iraq strategy reviews sometime in the next few weeks. President Bush has said he will look at all options before making any decision on Iraq.

Panel members on the Iraq Study Group said their plan didn't offer any guarantees, but that it would certainly improve the chances for success in Iraq.

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