Baker And Hamilton Defend Iraq Report

Harry Smith with James Baker and Lee Hamilton
The co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group defended their calls for a new strategy in Iraq on Face The Nation.

"The fact of the matter is, the president, the administration, has an extraordinarily difficult problem here with Iraq," James Baker told Bob Schieffer. "I think the situation is such that politics as usual is not going to come up with the answer."

The group's other co-chairman, Lee Hamilton, said success in Iraq will be a political victory, not a military one.

"Every general – including General Chiarelli just yesterday – has pointed out that you cannot solve this problem with military force, that you have to get a political solution," Hamilton said. "What we think is possible to achieve the goal that the president has set out, which is a government that can defend itself, govern itself, sustain itself. That's an achievable goal."

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group was formed to present de-politicized recommendations to the president. The panel called for direct talks with Iran and Syria, and a pullback of all American combat brigades by early 2008.

But, reactions to the Baker-Hamilton report have not been neutral. "The Wall Street Journal" called it a strategic muddle. The "New York Post" called Baker and Hamilton, "surrender monkeys." Rush Limbaugh deemed the whole thing stupid.

Baker said he was not surprised by the reaction, and he said he expects more of the same from both ends of the political spectrum. Both said the Iraq Study Group was the kind of bi-partisan thinking the country needs.

"It's a very easy thing to set out all kinds of objectives in Iraq, or in the Middle East region, but it's awfully hard to come up with something that's achievable, given the political environment in this country, very evenly divided – Republican president, Democratic Congress – and given the political environment in Iraq itself," Hamilton said.

"There has to be a unity of the American people and a unity of the country behind an approach if it's going to work," Baker said.

Hamilton said that the mission of U.S. forces needs to shift towards pushing "the Iraqi government toward national reconciliation, and to engage the region." Meanwhile, the U.S. government should move to deal with the Arab-Israeli dispute as a way to stabilize the region.

Baker said that Iraqi troops need to take the lead in combat and American troops should pull back so they will not have to referee sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Some officials like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called for 20,000 more troops in Iraq, others have said even more troops are needed. But Hamilton and Baker said those number are simply not there.

"Furthermore, if you do that, you are not going to get the Iraqis to react by saying, 'Oh, well, let's let the Americans take it,'" Hamilton said. "That's exactly what we don't want. We want the Iraqis at the point of the spear, not the American forces."

"We suggest in there that if our commanders come up with a recommendation of a surge of forces to deal with the current problem in Baghdad, that that is something we would support," Baker said. "Everyone we talked to indicated that, for the medium and long term, we just do not have over 50,000 American troops combat-ready, trained and ready to go, that we can insert in there."

Also appearing on Face The Nation, incoming Minority Whip Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he thinks the president understands the status quo must change and is listening to recommendations.

"I know the president is considering it; the Congress is," he said. "They've been attacked, as usual, from the left and the right. But here's the thrust of it, in my opinion: The status quo is not good enough. We're going to have to change the circumstances. We're going to have to change the dynamics. And my attitude is, let's try it all."

Incoming Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he agrees with the report's conclusion that the U.S. should engage Iran and Syria in diplomacy, but doubts they will be helpful. He also said it's important to stress that the U.S. will have to leave Iraq to its own devices at some point.

"The president has made a fundamental error, I believe, in telling the Iraqis that our commitment is open-ended," he said. "He has said that we're going to be in Iraq with our troops as long as the Iraqis want us to be in Iraq."

The opinions may vary, but nearly everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees that something must be done about Iraq as soon as possible.

"I think there's a sense of urgency everywhere," Hamilton said, "in the Congress and in the administration."