The Bush administration will do well not to ignore the Iraq Study Group’s report that was released last Monday. The bi-partisan study, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, has kicked up a lot of dust in Washington where administration officials are upset over the panel’s damning prognosis of American inability to reverse the violent slide in Iraq. From the outset, Washington’s one-dimensional foreign policy of forcing democracy in Iraq from outside was a non-starter, as the continuing appalling bloodbath in the war-torn country proves. The Bush administration seems to have worked in vain to stymie any attempt to have the Iraqi government controlled by the Shias — lest such a government reach out to Tehran.
Washington’s divide-and-rule tactics, trying to play one Iraqi side against the other, may have only been effective in fracturing the Shia alliance that got the most votes in 2005. So the best bet now is obviously to let an outside agency, like the UN, invite not only Iraq’s neighbours — as the report suggests — but also countries outside the region, to get involved in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the report appears to have come as a rude surprise to President Bush who, just last week, had pledged not to pull US troops ‘off the battlefield’ until ‘the mission’ was complete. And here’s none other then James Baker, Secretary of State to former President George Bush, pointing out that conditions in Iraq are ‘grave and deteriorating’, and recommending handing over more responsibilities to the Iraqis and withdrawing most US combat forces from Iraq by 2008.
Nevertheless, the report could provide Mr Bush with just the sort of cover he needs to change course on Iraq. For, the mid-term polls in the US showed how disillusioned Americans are with the Iraq war. With just a couple of years left in office for him, it’s unlikely to affect the popularity of the lame-duck President to look at 2008 as a de facto deadline for an exit from Iraq. In fact, most politicians will probably be eager to have a troop pullout well underway before Election Day in 2008.