About time for fresh look at U.S. policy in Iraq
Three years have passed since U.S. troops have been been fighting insurgents in Iraq.
AMERICANS are increasingly polarized about the hostilities in Iraq, this week at its third anniversary. The insurgency might have dissolved into civil war, and an independent assessment is overdue. A panel similar to the 9/11 Commission following the 2001 terrorist attack was provided congressional funding last week, and its fresh and bold advice is needed as promptly as possible.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took to the airwaves over the weekend to argue once again that America should stay the course in Iraq. Bush said he understands "how some Americans have had their confidence shaken" but is "encouraged by the progress."
Meanwhile, Ayad Allawi, praised by Bush as Iraq's post-invasion prime minister, told the BBC that his country is nearing "a point of no return." While Allawi described it as a civil war -- "If this is not a civil war, then God knows what civil war is" -- Gen. George Casey, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, insisted, "We're a long way from civil war." The issue is one of semantics.
Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Frank Wolf, R-Va., approached the president in November with the proposal of an independent "Fresh Eyes on Iraq" commission. Since then, four Washington think tanks assembled such a panel, which was launched last week with $1.3 million in funding from Congress.
Although the mere formation of such a commission might be seen as an affront to the administration's Iraq policy, Bush has promised to cooperate by providing travel to and inside Iraq.
The Iraq Study Group, assembled by the think tanks, is headed by James Baker III, who served as secretary of state under the elder President Bush, and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, who also co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. It includes eight other prominent former government officials, the most questionable of whom are Rudolph Giuliani, who might have presidential aspirations, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, who called CNN Baghdad correspondent Peter Arnett an enemy "sympathizer" during the 1991 Gulf War and who is a close friend of fellow Wyomingite Cheney.
The study group is assigned to examine four topics: the strategic environment of the Iraq region, security challenges, political development to form a new government, and the economy and reconstruction. Like the administration's Iraq policy itself, the Iraq panel has no timetable.
Baker said the group plans to "do this as expeditiously as we can considering the fact that we want to be correct, we want to be efficient and we want to be accurate."
The 9/11 Commission was created in late 2002 and took a year and a half to complete its report. The Iraq group must be mindful that as it works, the Iraq fatality toll -- now more than 2,300 Americans and 33,000 Iraqis -- will continue to grow.