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When asked what to do about the war in Iraq, leaders from both parties are quick to point to the work of the Iraq study group. That's the bipartisan commission that's been charged with formulating future U.S. policy on Iraq. The group will meet with President Bush on Monday.
But as NPR's Jackie Northam reports, it's unclear whether it will provide any new ideas.
JACKIE NORTHAM: The bipartisan Iraq study group was formed by Congress last spring as a way to bring a fresh assessment of how to deal with the increasingly difficult situation in Iraq.
The commission is co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, former chair of the house committee on international relations. One of the study group's founding members was Robert Gates, the man slated to become the new secretary of defense. He has just been replaced in the Iraq Study Group by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.
In the months since its inception, as Iraq has plunged further into chaos and U.S. options there have diminished, the Iraq Study Group has taken on an increased importance, says Marvin Ott, a professor at the National War College.
Professor MARVIN OTT (National War College): We now have a debacle, and we need to extract ourselves as best we can. Now you call upon the old style realists, the James Bakers, to say okay, now that we've made a mess of this, try to figure out how to make the best of it to get us out of it.
NORTHAM: Many key members of the Iraq Study Group, such as Baker and Hamilton, are considered pragmatists and multilateralists and are old associates of the president's father, George H. W. Bush. It's expected they will draw up recommendations for Iraq that are philosophically different from those of the neoconservatives in the current administration. Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a co-author of the book Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security, says it's likely President Bush will listen to those recommendations.
Mr. MICHAEL O'HANLON (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): There's no doubt that Jim Baker is about as well positioned to think fresh, but in a way that George Bush will listen to, as anybody in the country.
NORTHAM: But, O'Hanlon says, just because the worldview is different doesn't make the solution any easier. For example, one of the expected recommendations by the Iraq Study Group is for the U.S. to open up talks with two of Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran. Eliot Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, is dubious of the suggestion.
Professor ELIOT COHEN (Johns Hopkins University): We have to understand that they have no incentives to be generous or to come to terms with us and, objectively, their interests are really harshly opposed to ours, and they feel no pressure.
NORTHAM: There are similar roadblocks for other suggestions that have been leaked to the press. Eliot Cohen says it's unlikely the study group will come up with any ideas that no one else has thought of, in part because they're not putting enough into it. Cohen says he was asked to be one of the group's expert advisors but quit in short order.
Professor COHEN: It became pretty clear to me that the group was not going to spend a lot of time on the ground in Iraq, and I think it's very hard to come up with good recommendations unless you spend a lot of time over there and you spend a lot of that time outside the green zone.
NORTHAM: And yet, many in Congress and the administration are looking to the Iraq Study Group to finally produce some solutions. But retired Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor, a defense analyst, says that faith is ill founded.
Colonel DOUGLAS MacGREGOR (Defense Analyst): This is an effort to maintain the illusion or the fiction that somehow or another we are in position to decisively shape events on the ground in Iraq. We haven't been in that position, really, since the spring of 2004.
NORTHAM: Members of the Iraq Study Group are due to meet with President Bush and other administration officials on Monday.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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