By CAROLYN LOCHHEAD
San Francisco Chronicle
December 12, 2006
Bush looks at history, too. After the release of a grim assessment of the war by the Iraq Study Group, headed by James Baker, a close friend of Bush's father who served as secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, Bush conceded the need for tactical shifts, but he left it to those who follow him into the Oval Office to decide whether to leave Iraq.
"Will we have the resolve and confidence in liberty to prevail?" he asked. That question is "not going to face this government ... because we made up our mind. We've made that part clear. It'll face future governments. There will be future opportunities for people to say, 'Well, it's not worth it. Let's just retreat.' "
Standing at a point in history as fraught with consequence as his decision to invade Iraq nearly four years ago, Bush is in full flower of what he calls resolve and others call obduracy. The Baker-Hamilton report has left Bush isolated even within his own party.
"This is a president who really sees it as a weakness to admit error," said Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University. "But with Iraq it has reached such a point, it's like he's standing in the desert without anyone around him and refusing help."
Bush has scheduled an intense round of meetings this week with military commanders and Pentagon officials, the State Department, the vice president of Iraq and outside experts.
Bush said the bipartisan report endorsed his strategic goal of a stable Iraq and the danger of a precipitous withdrawal. The report did that, but it also called current policy a failure and talked of preventing catastrophe - not spreading democracy as Bush declared again last week - in the Middle East.
The Baker-Hamilton report finished what voters began in November when they handed control of the House and Senate to Democrats, knocking out what little political support remained for Bush's Iraq policy. Calls for withdrawal now have a bipartisan imprimatur and set a standard against which Bush will be measured.
"Whatever he chooses will be graded against this report," said Rand Beers, a longtime Republican national security official who resigned from Bush's administration over its war policy.
Last Thursday, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican who voted for the war, became the latest member of the president's party to leave his side when he slammed the entire Iraq enterprise in a scathing Senate floor speech.
"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day," Smith said. "That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore."
Bush supporters draw parallels with Democratic President Harry Truman, who left office in shame over public disapproval of the Korean War but whose reputation was resurrected. Presidential historians are more tempted to look to Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, who escalated the war in Vietnam to halt the spread of communism but faced a nationalist guerrilla insurgency that cost more than 57,000 American lives.
Many in Washington, even those who supported the invasion, see the Iraq Study Group as a lifeline to Bush. "They did him a great favor politically," said Stephen Hess, a political scientist at George Washington University who worked in the Nixon administration. "My feeling is he's having a very hard time moving off his set positions, which were particularly fixed by the campaign, when he was out every day saying the same things about victory and democracy."
"This is the president's big chance, and I hope he takes it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions