George Will

Hence, a fourth question: In a (perhaps intentionally) opaque statement on "The Charlie Rose Show" (Oct. 6), Baker said: "If we are able to promote representative -- representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, (Iraq) will have been a success." Can President Bush's "freedom agenda," which Iraq has shredded, be recast by the Study Group showing that there is more than semantic sleight-of-hand in the distinction between democracy and representation?

Perhaps the Study Group will function as did the Tower Commission, which provided a pivot point for the last two years of a troubled presidency. Chaired by former Sen. John Tower, the Texas Republican, it analyzed the Reagan administration's failings that produced the Iran-contra fiasco. This story is told in the book "Saving the Reagan Presidency" by David Abshire, to whom Reagan gave extraordinary powers to examine his administration's dysfunctions and recommend remedial measures.

Abshire, a seasoned diplomat now advising the Study Group, told Reagan that his presidency could not be revived without the removal of Don Regan as White House chief of staff. Regan was removed. The Study Group almost certainly will, like the Tower Commission, refrain from making personnel recommendations. But is it plausible that the Bush presidency can pivot without changing senior Defense Department personnel?

In September 1942 the U.S. government purchased 58,575 acres of wilderness in eastern Tennessee. Soon there was a town, Oak Ridge, and amazing scientific facilities. Thirty-four months after the purchase, an atomic blast lit the New Mexico desert. After 43 months in Iraq, U.S. forces still struggle to cope with improvised explosive devices.

On Sept. 19, Hamilton said "the next three months are critical." On Oct. 5, Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that the next "two or three months" are critical. If only the worsening insurgency were, as the president suggested Wednesday, akin to North Vietnam's 1968 Tet Offensive. The insurgency is worse: Tet was a military defeat for North Vietnam. The president says the war in Iraq will be "just a comma" in history books, but by Nov. 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with the Study Group's recommendations due, the comma will have lasted as long as U.S. involvement in World War II.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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