The long-running political debate in Washington over the war in Iraq took a major turn Wednesday with the release of the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. As VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports, veteran foreign policy makers and members of Congress from both political parties hope the recommendations will shape a new bipartisan approach to stabilizing Iraq and bringing home U.S. troops.
The message from the 10-member Iraq Study Group was blunt. The current Bush administration policy on Iraq is not working and changes are needed to salvage the mission.
Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton is the commission co-chairman.
"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," said Lee Hamilton. "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."
The major recommendations include shifting the role of U.S. troops from combat to support and training Iraqis, with an eye toward withdrawing many American soldiers beginning in early 2008. The study group also called for a new diplomatic outreach to Iran and Syria in hopes of beginning regional negotiations on Iraq's future.
Politicians from both major political parties have been eagerly awaiting the study group recommendations for months, hopeful they will provide a blueprint for successfully drawing to a close the divisive U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Charles Grassley is a Republican senator from Iowa.
"We are not going to pussyfoot around there [spend] the rest of our lives in Iraq, that we want them to get the insurgency under control, we want to help them do it, but that we are not going stay around forever and we are going to move out," said Charles Grassley.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said what happens next is up to the White House.
"The president has the ball in his court now," said Harry Reid. "It is up to President Bush to implement the recommendations of this commission, the study group."
Mr. Bush is under no obligation to follow the study group recommendations.
After being briefed by commission leaders at the White House, the president said the report includes some interesting proposals and promised he would act in a timely fashion.
"This report will give us all an opportunity to find common ground, for the good of the country, not for the good of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but for the good of the country," said President Bush.
University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato says the study group report will bring new pressure on the president to change his policy toward Iraq.
"The president has a lot of adjusting to do, but he has very little choice at this point," said Larry Sabato. "Even many conservative Republicans and some neo-conservatives are deserting the ship and making it clear that the current policy in Iraq is unsustainable."
Pressure will also continue to come from a small group of Democrats who want Congress to cut funding for the Iraq mission. This is Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
"Stop wasting money," said Congressman Kucinich. "Stop wasting lives. Bring the troops home now and cut off funds for more war."
But many members of Congress and veteran policymakers hope the Iraq Study Group recommendations will form the foundation for a new bipartisan consensus on a way forward in Iraq.
Former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta is a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
"This country cannot be at war and be as divided as we are today," said Leon Panetta. "We have got to unify this country and I suggest to the president that what we did in this group can perhaps serve as an example to try to pull together the leadership of the Congress and try to focus on the recommendations that we have made."
Some foreign policy experts believe the study group proposals could begin to shift the Washington debate over Iraq, especially in the wake of last month's congressional elections in which public discontent over Iraq helped Democrats win back control of Congress.
Former defense department official Lawrence Korb is now a foreign policy analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
"I do not think you will see an immediate change, but I think you will see a beginning of a new direction because I think the president recognizes that the American people spoke in the election and they do not have infinite patience," he said.
Other analysts see the Iraq report as a rare opportunity to put politics aside in trying to figure out how to be successful in Iraq and still bring U.S. troops home in a timely fashion.
James Carafano is a defense and intelligence expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He spoke on the CSPAN T-V public affairs network.
"What this report does have an opportunity to do is to change the politics of how we talk about Iraq inside the United States," said James Carafano. "It is really an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats and political leaders on both sides to really acknowledge the realities on the ground, acknowledge the range of things that are practical that can be done, the advantages and disadvantages that they have, for us to really move forward as a nation and leave politics at the water's edge and implement a consensus policy on Iraq and let our politics go and debate other issues."
But other analysts are more pessimistic. Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
"One would like to think that there would be a happy moment for a consensus about where to move forward," she said. "I think that is very unlikely. One of the reasons why it is very unlikely is that it is really hard to figure out what to do. None of these are the silver bullet that one might hope for, and because they are not, it is going to be hard to rally a bipartisan group around any set of ideas."
The pressures on the president to adopt at least some of the study group recommendations could escalate once Democrats take control of both houses of Congress in January.