Pen­tagon draft­ing its own al­ter­na­tive to Baker re­port Inside the Ring

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The Pen­tagon is draft­ing its own new op­tions for win­ning in Iraq, in part, to give Pres­i­dent Bush coun­ter­pro­pos­als to fall back on in case the Iraq Study Group comes up with ideas he does not like, de­fense of­fi­cials say.

Mean­while, study group cochair­man Lee H. Hamil­ton, a for­mer Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tive from In­di­ana, told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Nov. 21 that he and cochair­man James A. Baker III, sec­re­tary of state in the first Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, have nearly com­pleted a first draft re­port.

Mr. Hamil­ton said the two men hope to com­plete it by the Nov. 2526 week­end and give it to the eight other Iraq Study Group mem­bers in time for a meet­ing this week to re­view it. The re­port con­tains Mr. Hamil­ton’s and Mr. Baker’s as­sess­ment of the Iraq sit­u­a­tion and rec­om­men­da­tions to Mr. Bush.

The 10 mem­bers will then ac­cept, re­ject or mod­ify the ideas, and Mr. Hamil­ton cau­tioned that the panel has no dead­line to pro­duce a fi­nal re­port.

“The whole thing could be changed,” Mr. Hamil­ton said. “We do feel like we should move ahead with due dili­gence.”

Mr. Hamil­ton de­clined to dis- cuss the op­tions. Mr. Baker has said pub­licly he be­lieves in talk­ing to one’s en­e­mies, an in­di­ca­tion that the study group will rec­om­mend open­ing di­a­logues with Syria and Iran, two U.S. ad­ver­saries that border Iraq and sup­port the in­sur­gents.

Mr. Hamil­ton said the group has heard from more than 250 peo­ple, both in and out of gov­ern­ment.

“We are in­un­dated with rec­om­men­da­tions at this point,” he said. “I lit­er­ally can’t go any­where with­out peo­ple mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to me. But that’s good.”

The Baker-Hamil­ton group will not be the only source of new ideas on Iraq for the pres­i­dent in a war that an in­creas­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans say lacks progress. The Pen­tagon is also lead­ing an ex­ten­sive re­view.

The de­fense of­fi­cials said they do not want the Iraq Study Group’s op­tions to go un­chal­lenged in case it pro­poses items that Mr. Bush does not like, such as a timetable for re­mov­ing troops.

“I don’t think any­one is com­fort­able with one or­ga­ni­za­tion com­ing up with a list of rec­om­men­da­tions,” said a se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial in­volved in the war re­view, adding that the Pen­tagon re­view could pro­duce ideas that com­pete with or are counter to the Iraq Study Group’s.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chair- man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, be­gan lead­ing the Pen­tagon’s re­view in Septem­ber. The Joint Staff, the Joint Chiefs plan­ning arm, is study­ing ideas — from adding troops to re­duc­ing them as well as mak­ing new ef­forts to win the sup­port of Sunni Mus­lims who lead the in­sur­gency.

A likely op­tion will be to find ways to ac­cel­er­ate the de­ploy- ment of Iraqi brigades, de­fense of­fi­cials say. This is a move ad­vo­cated by House Armed Ser­vices Chair­man Dun­can Hunter, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can. In the­ory, some of­fi­cials see it as the only promis­ing op­tion for re­duc­ing the Amer­i­can pres­ence in Iraq and thus re­duc­ing ca­su­al­ties.

An ad­viser to De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld said, “If we had a sil­ver bul­let, we would have fired it a long time ago.”

De­fense of­fi­cials say they doubt that Gen. Pace will rec­om­mend a ma­jor in­crease in troops. The Army to­day is hard-pressed to main­tain the bulk of 147,000 troops in Iraq. State­side brigades lack ba­sic equip­ment on which to train be­cause the Army puts de­ployed units at the top of the pri­or­ity list for weapons and other equip­ment.

Mr. Rums­feld is leav­ing the Pen­tagon next month af­ter the ex­pected Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion of Robert M. Gates as his suc­ces­sor. The bulk of the re­view work is fall­ing on Gen. Pace, who un­der law is the top mil­i­tary ad­viser to the pres­i­dent.

Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. com­man­der in the re­gion, has made a pas­sion­ate case for keep­ing Amer­i­can troop lev­els where they are now, thus re­quir­ing Gen. Pace to over­rule a com­bat­ant com­man­der if he wants a troop in­crease.

“Our troops’ pos­ture needs to stay where it is as we move to en­hance the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces,” Gen. Abizaid, who heads U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, last week told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, “and then we need to as­sess whether or not we can bring ma­jor com­bat units out of there.”

Bloomberg News

Pres­i­dent Bush, cen­ter, was joined by Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, seated to the left of Mr. Bush, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Stephen Hadley, seated to the left of Mr. Cheney, and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, right, ear­lier this month dur­ing a meet­ing with the Baker-Hamil­ton Com­mis­sion in the Roo­sevelt Room of the White House.

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