Iraq panel likened to Viet­nam ‘wise men’ who ad­vised LBJ

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The­bi­par­ti­sanIraqS­tudyGroup, which has re­ceived con­cen­trated press cov­er­age this fall as it pre­pared­tore­port­toPres­i­den­tBushon Dec. 6, was the idea of a Repub­li­can law­maker look­ing for fresh ideas on the war.

For some, it brings mem­o­ries of Viet­nam in 1967 and 1968, when Pres­i­dent John­son turned to a group of “wise men,” mostly Democrats, for ad­vice on how to win that long war. But while Mr. John­son ac­tively sought their coun­sel, the White House and Pen­tagon are not overly en­thu­si­as­tic about an out­side group of for­mer politi­cians and Cabi­net mem­bers sug­gest­ing war pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to se­nior of­fi­cials.

While the Iraq Study Group was in the home­stretch of a 10-month project to write a re­port, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tioninSeptem­ber­kicked off its own top-to-bot­tom re­views on many fronts. The of­fice of the sec­re­tary of de­fense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State De­part­ment and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil are all weigh­ing op­tions. The ideas range from A to Z: pull out all troops now or add more troops to quell restive Bagh­dad and An­bar prov­ince.

Mr. Bush al­ready has re­ceived some op­tions from Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair­man, and from out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld. Mr. Rums­feld pro­vided a list of 21 pos­si­ble ac­tions in a Nov. 6 memo to the pres­i­dent.

“Let’sseeifthe[IraqS­tudyGroup] comes up with any­thing bet­ter than this,” a Pen­tagon of­fi­cial said of Mr. Rums­feld’s ideas. Mr. Rums­feld pro­posed in­no­va­tive ideas on the pos­si­blere­de­ploy­mentof­forcesin­sid­eIraq and deny­ing con­struc­tion projects to vi­o­lent com­mu­ni­ties.

By the time the White House be­gins study­ing the group’s re­port, the pres­i­dent will also have scores of ideas from his own ad­vis­ers.

The study group’s main rec­om­men­da­tions are thought to be a grad­u­al­with­drawalofU.S.troops­butwith no pre­de­ter­mined time­line, and Wash­ing­ton en­gage­ment with Iran and Syria.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, pushed the study group idea af­ter a Septem­ber 2005 visit to Iraq. The de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in­di­cated to him the ad­min­is­tra­tion needed a fresh look. He pro­posed a panel of out­side ex­perts and sold the idea to Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleez­za­Rice­andMr.Rums­feld. Mr.Wolfthen­spon­soreda$1mil­lion ap­pro­pri­a­tion to fund the study.

Mr. Wolf, other mem­bers of Congress and the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace col­lec­tivel­y­s­e­lect­edtheco-chair­man —for­merSec­re­tary­ofS­tateJamesA. Bak­erIIIand­formerRep.LeeHamil- ton, In­di­ana Demo­crat. Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamil­ton then se­lected the other eight mem­bers.

Some have re­ferred to the study panel’scastof“for­m­ers”as­ninewise men, plus one wo­man. It in­cludes four mem­bers of Congress; two sec­re­tariesof­s­tate;oneat­tor­ney­gen­eral; one Supreme Court jus­tice, one sec­re­tary of de­fense; and an in­vest­ment bankerandWash­ing­ton­power­bro­ker.

The group be­gan work in March. ByNovem­ber,ithadlis­tened­to­more than250cur­rentand­former­gov­ern­mentof­fi­cials,mil­i­taryper­son­neland na­tional se­cu­rity thinkers. It in­ter­viewed Mr. Bush twice.

Un­liketheSeptem­ber11­com­mis­sion, the Iraq Study Group has no statu­to­ry­man­date.It­srec­om­menda- tion­sarenot­bindin­gonMr.Bush.But Democratswhowant­thep­res­i­dentto change course in Iraq and bring troop­shome­a­re­ex­pect­ed­toem­brace anyrec­om­men­da­tion,no­mat­ter­how im­pre­cise, to cut troop lev­els in the near fu­ture.

The study group is some­what unique.

“It’s the old throw­back to the ‘wise men,’ ” said Richard Shultz, di­rec­tor ofIn­ter­na­tion­alSe­cu­ri­tyS­tud­iesPro­gram at Tufts Univer­sity’s Fletcher School.“John­son­didthe­same­thing.”

Mr.John­son,hisViet­namWar­pol­icy in sham­bles, sum­moned some of the most ex­pe­ri­enced minds in the Demo­cratic Party to come to the White House on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions in 1967 and 1968 to ad­vise the pres­i­dent. The list in­cluded Dean Ach­e­son, Pres­i­dent Tru­man’s sec­re­tary of state; Judge Abe For­tas; and re­tiredGen.OmarBradley,one­ofthe­man­der­sinWorldWarII.

Un­liketheIraqS­tudyGroup,how­ever, Mr. John­son’s “wise men” did not con­sti­tute a for­mal group, with staff and a con­gres­sional bud­get.

“The ex­tent of [the Iraq Study Group] is unique, but it’s the same prin­ci­ple:The‘wise­men,’”Mr.Shultz said.

Three­week­safterthe“wise­men” came for a Nov. 2, 1967, meet­ing, Robert McNa­mara re­signed as Mr. John­son’sde­fens­es­ec­re­tary­inabreak over war pol­icy.

Lyn­don Baines John­son Li­brary

Orig­i­nal ‘Wise Men’: The Se­nior Ad­vi­sory Group on Viet­nam, as­sem­bled to sug­gest war pol­icy, met with Pres­i­dent John­son at the White House in March 1968. From left, Am­bas­sador Averell Har­ri­man, Am­bas­sador Henry Cabot Lodge, Dean Ach­e­son, Gen. Omar Bradley and Mr. John­son.

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