The Washington Post broke the news that the Iraq Study Group would "recommend to President Bush that he threaten to reduce economic and military support for Iraq's government if it fails to meet specific benchmarks intended to improve security in the country." The Post also says, "Although the study group will present its plan as a much-needed course change in Iraq, many of its own advisers concluded during its deliberations that the war is essentially already lost."
The New York Times profiles Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton (D), who also co-chaired the September 11 commission and who is "demonstrating, as he did in Congress, that he is not in lock-step with Democratic leaders, who have mostly recommended a sharper reversal of American policy than the group will propose."
Roll Call says congressional Democrats "privately acknowledge that they will be careful not to go too far in embracing the study. Democrats say they want to make sure that the report... doesn't provide cover for the Bush administration over its policies... On Tuesday, Democratic sources said they plan to drive home three key messages: that the report shows need for a new policy in Iraq, that Iraq is embroiled in a civil war and that Bush must use the report as a wake-up call. But Democrats also will make clear that the report is 'not the be-all-and-end-all.'"
One potential complication for Democrats: Incoming House Intelligence Committee chair Silvestre Reyes (D) supports increasing US troop levels...
The Washington Post looks at how the report has become the focal point of a multi-faceted ideological debate. For example, in an interview, presidential candidate and incoming Senate Foreign Relations chair Joe Biden (D) "voiced his own concern about the direction of the report,... especially the panel's apparent unwillingness to depart from basic support for a strong central government in Baghdad."
During his confirmation hearing yesterday, Gates said that the United States is not winning the war, that there were insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial US invasion, and that the war is not "the" central front in the war on terror.
"Gates' more conciliatory approach at the hearing seemed to mark a new phase in which recriminations over the war's origins give way to debates over how to extricate American forces without leaving chaos behind," says the Los Angeles Times. "Although Gates was intentionally vague about which strategic route he preferred - refusing to answer some questions on troop levels until he consulted with military commanders - he drew several lines. He was cool toward a firm timetable for withdrawal," for one.
If confirmed, Gates "plans to first travel to Iraq to meet commanders and receive their assessments. The timeline suggests that any comprehensive change in policy will not come for weeks. Mr. Gates did signal that he does not favor an immediate pullout, as favored by Rep. John P. Murtha."
A Chicago Tribune analysis notes that Bush "has taken on the look of the last man standing" when it comes to Iraq. "After nearly four years of war, the president has said he welcomes 'fresh eyes' and new tactics. At the same time, he has kept his position that U.S. forces will not stand down until Iraq's nascent government is able to defend itself against terrorism."
"This war is not only the president's. This war belongs to Congress as well, to Democrats and Republican alike," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) on Tuesday in a memo urging House Democrats to vote against the $130 billion Iraq supplemental spending bill when it comes up for vote this spring. MSNBC.com's Tom Curry reports that outside the Democratic caucus meeting yesterday, at which the members heard from Richard Holbrooke and others, Kucinich said, "If new members came in here on the expectation that they're going to help end the war, and then they vote to appropriate $130 billion, they might find difficulty going back home and explaining that. You can't simultaneously say you oppose the war and then vote to fund it."
Democratic pollster Jeremy Rosner was having none of that in the analysis he wrote a few days ago: "Despite the war's initial bipartisan authorization, Iraq belongs to George Bush," Rosner wrote. He warned that Democrats "need to avoid pushing for funding cut-offs that could be cast as undermining the troops (and which would in any event merely be veto bait)." Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi is listening to Rosner, not Kucinich, Curry reports. "We will not cut off funding for the troops," Pelosi said Tuesday. "Absolutely not."