The Magazine

It's Up To Bush

The Baker group and many of Bush's advisors have failed the president. It's up to the commander in chief now.

Dec 18, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 14 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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We understand that many people don't even want to think about such possibilities. We note that most of those who denounce these proposals as unworkable, impossible, and indeed unthinkable simply want to leave Iraq as quickly as possible and don't want to hear any nonsense about actually trying to succeed there. This was certainly true of the Baker commission. One adviser to the commission recently admitted that the panel never sought to present a plan that could succeed. Former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas W. Freeman candidly revealed to the Washington Post how Baker and his colleagues approached the problem of Iraq. "Very early on, the notion of achieving some sort of victory didn't take. So if victory is not possible and not feasible, even if you could define it, then what you're left with is to find some way to mitigate defeat." No surprise, then, that the commission did not come up with a plan that has any chance of producing success in Iraq.

President Bush, on the other hand, wants to succeed, and he has staked his presidency and his legacy for decades to come on the success of the Iraq mission. He has, after all, had many opportunities to give up on Iraq--notably, in the 2004 election year, and before this last round of congressional elections. He could have looked at various times for a "graceful exit." Last week he could have used this Baker commission, as so many people expected he would, to provide political cover for a retreat. Instead, President Bush has courageously stood firm.

Now he needs to display a different kind of courage. He has to take into his own hands the fate of Iraq and make his own decisions about what needs to be done. Of course, he should listen to all his advisers. But he must also know that his advisers, both civilian and military, have been failing him for the past three years. American policy, if it is to have any hope of turning the tide, must change dramatically in the next month or two. No one other than President Bush can make that change. No one other than the president can insist on policies that would save Iraq now. It is up to him to seize the moment. Indeed, the utter failure of the Iraq Study Group to propose a strategy that could work provides him a fresh opportunity to devise and implement a strategy that can.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol