Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Baker urges US reassessment of strategy in Iraq


James Baker, a former secretary of state with a long-standing reputation of caution and service to Republican presidents, is joining a growing list of prominent Republicans lobbying for change in US President George W. Bush's Iraq policy.

Co-chairman of a bipartisan panel, Baker follows Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in urging Bush to reassess his "stay the course" strategy in Iraq.

Baker said on Sunday he would like "to take this thing out of politics" and, consequently, the bipartisan commission on Iraq that he co-chairs is unlikely to roll out its proposals for a new strategy until after next month's congressional elections.

Or, he said on Sunday on the ABC News program This Week, the commission might hold back until a new Congress takes over in January.

He made clear that he and the commission would advise changes in US strategy.

The unremitting violence in Iraq and mounting US and other casualties are working against the Republicans as they seek to hold power in the Senate and House of Representatives in elections scheduled for Nov. 7. All 435 House seats and 33 of the 100 in the Senate will be contested in the elections.

Polls are showing as well that Iraq is contributing to a decline in Bush's poll ratings.

Baker, who was former president Ronald Reagan's first chief of staff and then secretary of state and campaign manager for Bush's father, former president George Bush, is viewed generally as a conservative of the pragmatic variety.

Still, Baker, a lawyer, loyally came to the aid of the current president during the contested election of 2000 to handle the legal strategy for the Florida recount, which resulted in a Supreme Court decision that gave Bush the presidency. He has been counted as dedicated to the Bush family and to the Republican party.

Without revealing details, Baker said the commission, co-chaired by Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, was preparing to recommend that the president consider options to his "stay-the-course" strategy in Iraq.

"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run," Baker said. "We are taking a look at other alternatives."

Just last week, Warner returned from a trip to Iraq and said the war there was "drifting sideways." Warner, usually an administration loyalist, said if Iraq's government fails within three months to make progress toward reducing ethnic fighting and bolster reconstruction efforts, Congress would have make "bold decisions."

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