Tuesday, March 18, 2008 8:13 PM

The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, presented with much fanfare to President Bush in December 2006, were supposed to help bring together a nation bitterly divided over the Iraq war. But according to Lee H. Hamilton, one of the group's two co-chairmen, Bush didn't seize the opportunity to begin an honorable exit from Iraq.

"I never felt he bought into the report," said Hamilton, 77. "They basically didn't agree with the report, but the report was resonating in the country, so they couldn't dismiss it summarily. But in terms of the major recommendations, they really didn't follow them."

Composed of 10 elder statesmen of both parties -- including former secretary of state James A. Baker III, the other co-chairman -- the study group developed dozens of recommendations, such as more aggressive regional diplomacy, more training of Iraqi troops and making aid conditional on the Iraqis meeting political benchmarks.

Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said he and the other panel members spent "hours and hours and hours" trying to reconcile divergent views, yet he has seen no corresponding efforts in the months since from Bush and Democratic leaders, who have effectively punted the problem to the next president.

"The opposing sides don't talk to one another fundamentally," Hamilton said. "In order to get a bipartisan agreement, you have to have regular sustained, private conversations that go on and on and on. Both sides have to genuinely want accommodation and agreement -- that's not been present here. The White House has gone one way, and the Congress has gone another -- and the president prevails. But the country is weakened."

-- Michael Abramowitz

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