Iraq panel likened to Vietnam ‘wise men’ who advised LBJ
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,oneofthe topU.S.commandersinWorldWarII.
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.
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.