Rich Lowry

Is President Bush still the nation's commander in chief? Yes, he continues to return the salute when boarding Marine One, but it's a role he sometimes seems on the verge of abdicating.

He has left the question of troop levels in Iraq to the generals on the ground. Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told Bush a few months ago that they would wait and see how Iraq looked after Ramadan, which ended in late October. Well, Iraq looked worse. Now the administration seems to want to wait to see the conclusions of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group or one of its internal reviews of Iraq policy before making any new departures. In the meantime, Iraq looks still worse. As the administration waits, Iraq burns.

Bush has been at the mercy of events in Iraq. Perhaps that's forgivable. Even Abraham Lincoln famously confessed, "Events have controlled me." What's less understandable is being controlled by other people's advice. Bush has been presiding over the Iraq War for three years, and he really has no better ideas than might bubble up from his national-security council or from an Iraq Study Group including the likes of Sandra Day O'Connor and Vernon Jordan about how to prosecute the war?

If press reports are to be believed, the grand idea of the Baker-Hamilton Group is start a regional dialogue including Iran and Syria. This recommendation is hopefulness disguised as hardheadedness. It seems admirably tough-minded to be willing to talk to your odious adversaries, but it is wishful thinking to believe that anything useful to American strategic interests can come of it. So long as we are in a downward slide in the Iraq War, Iran and Syria only have an incentive to keep pushing us down and out.

The administration will never find its strategic footing unless it manages to improve the security situation in Iraq, which is the linchpin to political progress there and the key to the geopolitics of the region. Talking to Syria and Iran might hold a slim hope of accomplishing something if we weren't losing a major war in their backyards.

For all the studying and reviewing, there are only two real options in Iraq: to stabilize the country enough that the democratic government survives or to manage our withdrawal and defeat. Every day that passes without us doing the former increases the momentum for the latter. A few more months of the current deterioration and Democrats will -- despite their current disavowals -- seek to cut off funding for the war and will pay no political price for it because Republicans will have abandoned the war, too.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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