WASHINGTON -- The search for a solution to the war in Iraq has been put on hold in the government until a bipartisan 10-member commission submits its recommendations next month.
After a volcanic election that ousted Republicans and put Democrats in charge of Congress, largely because of mounting U.S. war casualties, a huge gulf still exists over what to do next.
President Bush, admitting to deep frustration over the course of the war, is open to "fresh ideas" about how to fight the war, says chief of staff Josh Bolten. Democrats, who won last week on the promise of a new military strategy, still have no detailed plan of their own, except withdrawal. Their leaders said on the Sunday talk shows that they would push for phased troop reductions when they take over in January.
The chief architect of Bush's military strategy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has submitted his resignation and a new defense chief, Robert Gates, who has spent most of his professional life in intelligence work and is known as a compromiser, will take over once the Senate confirms him.
All hopes seem to now rest with the congressionally sanctioned blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group, a special commission led by former Republican secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton, a Democrat, to devise a new plan to try to end a terrorist and sectarian war with no end in sight. The panel has interviewed Iraqi leaders, U.S. military officials and this week met with Bush and senior defense and intelligence officials.
Strangely, the panel, which includes former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta, Clinton pal Vernon Jordan and former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has few military/foreign-policy experts. Moreover, there is little or no evidence thus far that Baker and Hamilton have been able to come up with a consensus that can appeal to both sides.
In the few interviews Baker has given recently, he expressed doubt that a U.S. troop withdrawal can be pulled off without a full-scale civil war that plunges the country into even more chaos.
Last week, Hamilton told the Washington Post "We need to reach agreement, and that may not be possible." Translation: Democrats on the panel may not go along with anything that does not include some degree of troop withdrawal next year, nor will House and Senate Democrats.