After November 7th, when it is appearing more and more likely that the Dems will take the House of Representatives, George W. Bush loses one of his (until now) free hands to do what he pleases. The House will be sure to slow, redirect, and condition funding for the Iraq War and other missions in the Middle East. The House is also likely to begin using its power to call hearings, conduct investigations, and subpoena appearances of government officials under oath.
Many Republicans, particularly Senator John Warner of Virginia, see this coming and have signalled to the President that the course has to change in Iraq — that the pursuit of “victory” is now folly.
The vehicle many see that gives the White House some cover in changing direction is an Iraq Study Group co-chaired by James Baker III and Lee Hamilton. The work of the group has been profiled prominently by Robert Dreyfuss in the Washington Monthly so best to get the quick picture by reading his piece.
A consensus among the DC senior journalist crowd is that Baker’s report will suggest a comprehensive strategy that requires deal-making both within and around Iraq. Baker-Hamilton won’t criticize how we got where we are but they will probably argue that America’s position will continue to deteriorate until we establish a new equilibrium of interests in the region — and that requires deal-making that moves the Israel-Palestine standoff forward; that involves curbing Pakistan’s efforts to undermine the Karzai government in Afghanistan; that may involve a “Libya-like” get out of the dog house opportunity for Syria; and even some collaboration with Iran regarding Iraqi and Afghanistan stabilization.
These points are all speculative, but they are part of the roster of topics many senior foreign policy hands think may be in the Baker-Hamilton report.
I spoke with someone close to Senator John Warner last night who confirmed that the Senator has not been misunderstood by the media. He is determined to compel the White House to change course in Iraq if the Oval Office doesn’t do it on its own.
The problem with the Baker-Hamilton Report is that it doesn’t solve the internal policy management and implementation problems inside the White House. Baker becomes just another voice of other contending voices — and even if elevated to be the President’s Special Envoy for the Middle East, it’s not clear that the deep dysfunction that exists now and which paralyzes the inter-agency process will be fixed.
Cheney’s team must be neutralized and set to the side of the policy process — clearly demoted and moved out of the way for any Baker type plan to succeed in shaping an alternative direction.
Many see Rumsfeld’s days now being really, really, really numbered — and that he’ll be gone soon. But that is not enough.
Cheney controls the interagency process through his minions. They need to be identified, demoted, moved to desks with good views of the garden, and kept away from this next round of policy work, coordination, and implementation.
Cheney remains the key road block for a Baker plan to have any chance of succceeding.
— Steve Clemons