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Renner & Leopold: Dem. Reaction To Baker Report

Baker Report: The Democratic Reaction

By Matt Renner and Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 07 December 2006

The Iraq Study Group released its long-awaited report on Wednesday, recommending that the United States' involvement in the nearly four-year-old war should continue until at least 2008. This angered some Democrats, who said that the carnage and bloodshed in the region has reached a tipping point and that American soldiers should return home beginning sometime in mid-2007.

"Unless we set a serious timetable for redeploying our troops from Iraq, we will be unable to effectively address these global threats," said Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who is expected to draft legislation in January calling for US soldiers to leave Iraq by as early as July 2007. "In the end, this report is a regrettable example of 'official Washington' missing the point."

Perhaps the most explosive revelation contained in Wednesday's report is the cost of the invasion and post-war reconstruction, which will soar to $2 trillion, 20 times higher than what the Bush administration estimated prior to the March 2003 invasion. To date, the Iraq War has cost upwards of $350 billion, according to figures released by the Pentagon.

Last Thursday, the Pentagon trimmed its budget request for the war from $127 billion to $100 billion. The cost of the war has risen substantially as the violence increases and more equipment is destroyed or worn out in harsh conditions, according to the Pentagon.

The commission's report was made public on one of the worst days of fighting for US military forces during the escalating civil war. Hours after the report was posted online, the Pentagon confirmed that 10 American soldiers were killed in four separate incidents in Iraq Wednesday, bringing the total number of casualties to at least 2,917, according to figures monitored by the Associated Press. In addition, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have also been killed in the conflict, according to one report released in October by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Johns Hopkins Center for Refugee and Disaster Response.

The panel's findings, which were sent to President Bush and members of Congress, seem to echo what many former career military officials and numerous Democrats have been saying publicly for some time: the situation in Iraq is catastrophic and rapidly deteriorating.

The bipartisan commission, led by Bush family confidante James A. Baker III, said that if the Bush administration does not immediately change course and reach out to neighboring countries in the region like Syria and Iran, Iraq will continue to "slide toward chaos," resulting in the "collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe," an executive summary of the report stated.

Under that scenario, "neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al-Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized."

"No one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq at this point will stop sectarian warfare, growing violence or a slide toward chaos," the panel's two chairmen, former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, wrote in a joint letter accompanying the 142-page report. "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq."

The panel of five Republicans and five Democrats spent nearly nine months drafting the report and interviewed dozens of public officials and military experts. The report contains a list of 79 specific recommendations the Baker commission wants the president and Congress to embrace, but the report stopped short of setting a firm deadline for the US to begin withdrawing its troops.

The report, which is non-binding, did suggest that the White House begin to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by 2008 if the violence in the country has subsided. However, the report recommended that at least 70,000 - or roughly one-half - of military forces currently stationed in Iraq remain there.

Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said Wednesday that as long as there is a significant number of US troops stationed in Iraq, the violence in the country will continue to rage.

"As long as we have a significant American presence, in fact I would argue any real military presence, you are still going to have people fighting us because they don't believe that we are going to leave, they see us as occupiers or the second coming of the British," Korb said. "Bottom line: good start, but you need to set a specific time line for withdrawal."

Congressman James McGovern (D-Mass.) said he intends to introduce legislation next year to cut off or limit funding of the war unless lawmakers come to an agreement over a timeframe that will bring a substantial number of troops home.

Still, the reality of the situation in Iraq and on the home front has pushed President Bush further into the depths of denial. It became apparent Wednesday that Bush has failed to fully grasp the gravity of his decision to invade Iraq and how his failed policy and total disregard for post-war planning has played out over the past few years.

As early as Wednesday, Bush said, "we're winning" in Iraq, contradicting Robert Gates, the man he tapped to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee Monday that the US is not winning in Iraq.

Last week, the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff rejected the Iraq Study Group's draft report calling for a "pullback" of soldiers. Bush echoed that sentiment at a news conference Thursday with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan.

Bush vehemently dismissed recommendations for any type of phased withdrawal, saying the United States will remain in Iraq indefinitely, "until the job is complete, at the request of a sovereign government elected by the people."

"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," Bush said during a news conference last week. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done. This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

At a news conference Wednesday, Baker publicly rebuked President Bush and his "stay-the-course" mantra.

"We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution," Baker said at a news conference following the report's release. "In our opinion, that is no longer viable."

On Wednesday, the Democratic leadership in Congress and the Senate said that the Baker report clearly gives Bush's Iraq policy a failing grade and that it's time for the president to quickly come up with a new Iraq policy.

"The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has concluded that the president's Iraq policy has failed and must be changed," said incoming Democratic majority leader Nancy Pelosi. "As the November elections clearly demonstrated, that is an assessment shared by the American people. I hope that the president will recognize that he must take our policy in Iraq in a new direction."

Senator Carl Levin, the incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services C?mmittee, said the Iraq Study Group report contains many of the same recommendations he and Senator Jack Reed had called for months ago, particularly the need to engage in diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran and the redeployment of American troops.

"The Iraq Study Group report represents another blow at the policy of 'stay the course' that this administration has followed," Levin said. "The elections in November were the first major blow at that policy. The American people rose up against staying the course in Iraq, because the course is not working."

Levin said that he is strongly in favor of specific benchmark for withdrawing US troops and believes that by July 2007, the US should begin gradually turning over control to the Iraqi government and Iraqi Army.

Reed said ultimately "it is up to the president to use this report and these recommendations to forge a new policy, a new way forward that will help stabilize Iraq, and help us, as quickly as possible, redeploy our forces from Iraq."

The senator added that he is inclined to lend his support to the Baker Commission's findings and that his colleagues will back it because of Democrat Lee Hamilton's leadership position on the panel.

"I believe there will be bipartisan support for this report," Reed said. "First, this is a commission with Secretary Baker and Congressman Hamilton that is bipartisan, 50-50, right down the line. "

"And I think they also made an effort to reach out to obtain the opinion and the views from individuals from the full spectrum, both sides of the aisle - military personnel, diplomatic personnel," Reed said.

Senator Feingold, however, is one Democrat who disagrees with Reed and won't get behind the commission's report.

"While the report has regenerated a few good ideas, it doesn't adequately put Iraq in the context of a broader national security strategy," Feingold said. "We need an Iraq policy that is guided by our top national security priority - defeating the terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11 and its allies. We can't continue to just look at Iraq in isolation."


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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