Bush v. Baker

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, November 30, 2006; 1:02 PM

The conventional wisdom in the immediate aftermath of the mid-term election was that President Bush -- humbled by a vote of no confidence, hobbled by a deepening crisis in Iraq -- would turn away from the neoconservatism of Vice President Cheney and the hyper-partisanship of Karl Rove.

It was said that he would turn to his father's team. There was to be a course correction, in Iraq and elsewhere.

But the conventional wisdom may have underestimated the president's stubbornness -- and Cheney and Rove's tenacity.

Because at today's press conference in Jordan, following his abbreviated meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush made it abundantly clear that he is waving off the rescue attempt by longtime Bush family fixer James A. Baker III. He'd rather stay the course.

News reports this morning indicate that Baker's bipartisan Iraq Study Group will next week officially recommend a gradual pullback of American troops from Iraq.

But in Amman, Bush went out of his way to mock the notion of a "graceful exit" -- and to insist that he's in Iraq for the long haul. "This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all," Bush said.

In recent days, the president has also made clear that he will not heed the commission's other major anticipated recommendation: That he engage in a more aggressive diplomatic effort with Iraq's neighbors, particularly Iran and Syria. Cheney is said to be particularly adamant on that issue, and Bush says it's a non-starter.

So that would appear to leave only one significant area of agreement between Bush and the Baker commission: A shift in American emphasis from combat operations to training and advising Iraqi units.

But attempts to train Iraqi forces thus far have repeatedly failed -- or worse, backfired. (See, for instance, Washington Post stories by Thomas E. Ricks and Walter Pincus.)

And in the greater scheme of things -- with Iraq wracked by a horribly violent civil war, the American death toll rising, and an angry electorate demanding an exit strategy -- a shift of that sort risks coming off as nothing more than tinkering.

Bush, of course, could still change his mind. All we know is that he hasn't done so yet.

The Iraq Study Group

David E. Sanger and David S. Cloud write in the New York Times: "The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel's deliberations. . . .

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