Robert Novak

The president's position is difficult. He does not want to be seen as ignoring a congressional study group. But he has not yet reached the point of accepting an unconditional troop withdrawal. If he seems to differ from Baker-Hamilton recommendations, he can expect heavy scolding by the group's members on television.

Increasingly, Republicans on Capitol Hill see no viable alternative to combat troop withdrawal. While Bush's plight is compared to Abraham Lincoln's after his midterm elections, there is no capture of Atlanta to guarantee an ultimate military victory. This is not that kind of war.

If not an Atlanta-style victory, could Bush stabilize the situation in Iraq by sending in more troops? Sen. John McCain, the putative front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, once again has gone against the body of party opinion by calling for more U.S. troops in Iraq. Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a McCain supporter in 2000, wrote in The Washington Post Nov. 26: "The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq."

Bush agrees with that, but not with Hagel's call for a phased troop withdrawal likely to be included in a Baker-Hamilton group recommendation. Hagel sees the report as a last chance to avert "impending disaster in Iraq." While its release is anticipated at the White House as no less annoying than sitting through the Kennedy Center honors, the president faces an opportunity as well as a dilemma.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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