- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Iraq Study Group will submit its report to the White House early today and expectations are running high, with Democrats saying it should be a watershed moment of change in U.S. policy in Iraq, though the White House says change is not imminent and the report is just one voice to which President Bush will listen.

“It’s an opportunity for the administration to make some critical decisions. And it could be a watershed moment if decisions are made,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who has become one of the Democrats’ point men on Iraq. “If it’s not received, if it doesn’t prompt the kind of very careful detailed analysis and resulting decisions, then it’ll be a missed opportunity.”

But White House press secretary Tony Snow said not to expect “a magic bullet” from the commission, and said Mr. Bush will take their recommendations along with reviews he has requested from officials in his administration.

“A president in a time of war is going to consult his military commanders and his military leaders, and he is going to consult his diplomats, and he’s going to consult people who do this on a full-time basis 24-7, 365 days a year,” Mr. Snow said. “And he is going to make use of all that.”

The report comes as sectarian violence is increasing in Iraq, and just a month after Republicans suffered big losses in last month’s congressional elections — losses many in both parties saw as a demand for a change in policy in Iraq. But beneath today’s public debate over the report is another fight between Mr. Bush and Congress over their respective roles in determining foreign policy.

Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California led a group of House Democrats yesterday in calling for more consultations between the two branches of government. While ruling out cutting war funding, she promised that Democrats will hold hearings and investigations to try to shape how Mr. Bush prosecutes the war.

But the White House has said Mr. Bush remains the “decider,” as he called himself in April, on military matters, a point administration officials said he underscored last week to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. Bush got a sneak preview of the study group report yesterday when he sat down to lunch with the commission’s co-chairman, James A. Baker III, who outlined some of the broad conclusions.

The panel is expected to recommend pulling U.S. troops back from combat roles in Iraq and to focus on logistical support and training, with a goal of full withdrawal. The panel is also expected to recommend that the United States talk with Iraq’s neighbors Iran and Syria. The president has accused both of meddling and in Iran’s case has refused to talk because of its nuclear program.

Mr. Snow said the administration is not “tensing for a punch” from the report, and they don’t expect it to be seen as a challenge to the White House to change.

“It is their job to be working with this government to try to assist us in taking a look at a very complex problem. This is not an insurgency; it is a commission that’s designed to study a problem,” he said.

Mr. Bush has left open the possibility of major changes in Iraq, particularly with the departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nomination of Robert M. Gates to replace him. Mr. Gates was a member of the study group until his nomination, and the group popped up time and again during Mr. Gates’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

Mr. Bush himself helped raise expectations for the report in the days after last month’s congressional elections, both by praising the group in a press conference and by later having a public meeting with study group members. Mr. Gates’ nomination and the Iraq Study Group also both have links to Mr. Bush’s father, the former president. Mr. Baker was the former president’s secretary of state, and Mr. Gates was a deputy national security adviser and head of the CIA during the father’s administration.

Asked last month about the list of people with connections to the former president now popping up in the current administration, Mr. Snow — himself a speechwriter in the earlier administration — said not to read anything into that. “This is not bringing in people willy-nilly from the president’s administration ‘to save him,’ ” Mr. Snow said.

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