If you have been scratching your head and wondering exactly what happened to the Bush administration in the last month with regard to its war policy, we think we have an answer. It's the return of Baker-Hamilton. A year ago, this newspaper was the first to alert Americans to the dangers of this panel's recommendations regarding Iraq. We ran the first report that these congressionally-appointed "wise" men were fashioning a call to retreat from the Battle of Iraq and to appease those states sabotaging the nation-building there. Our Eli Lake also broke the story of the commission's scheme to press for Israel's relinquishment of the Golan Heights in hopes of stabilizing Iraq.
A month after the release of the commission's report, President Bush brushed aside the council of defeatists. Instead of offering a "diplomatic surge," whereby Secretary Rice would visit — hat in hand — Tehran and Damascus asking what we might be able to do to get them to stop terrorizing our soldiers and Iraq's civilians, the president led with a military surge. He announced that we were going to disrupt the supply lines of the enemy, and he ordered General Petraeus to protect Baghdad from confessional cleansers block by block.
At Anbar, our Marines linked up with Sunni sheikhs who had quite enough of Al Qaeda. This is how the counterinsurgency began. Today those parties that defeated Al Qaeda will be running in provincial elections to wrest power from the Sunni place sitters who, in 2005, were wooed by our diplomats but who have proven to be neutral at best in the war for their country. So when this phase of the history is written, it will be recorded that Mr. Bush, in respect of the Battle of Iraq, was able to withstand the blandishments of the Congress and his father's secretary of state.
Now the rest of the region is being tested. As the final report of the Iraq Study Group says, "The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel's right to exist), and Syria."
It turns out that this recommendation was added at the last minute by Mr. Baker himself. It also turns out that Mr. Baker was wrong. Iraq has stabilized in the absence of a peace process. Anbar was won without Israel relinquishing land to Syria. And so far, at least, he has been wrong about the necessity of the other big recommendation from his study group, namely to start direct engagement with Iran. Contrary to the desires of the Baker-Hamilton caucus, the president has offered to talk with Iran — but only on the condition that it end its enrichment of uranium. Iran has rebuffed the offer for nearly 18 months.
One way to look at the release on Monday of a revised national intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear program is that the majority of the intelligence community reckons it can finesse all this with a judgment call that the enrichment at Natanz is separate from a weapons program that was shuttered in the fall of 2003 after we raided Baghdad. As we noted in Tuesday's editorial, the result of this assessment is that the diplomacy to pressure Iran to end its enrichment will now likely collapse; indeed, there are already signs of this, including in Europe.
Not only that, but we are starting to hear new calls for a "diplomatic surge" on Iran. Within hours of the release of the new intelligence estimate, the majority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, said, "I hope this Administration reads this report carefully and appropriately adjusts its rhetoric and policy vis-à-vis Iran. The Administration should begin this process by finally undertaking a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran."
* * *
How much all this will succeed in moving the president off his game is the thing on which to keep an eye. Senator Biden, who is seen as the grown up on foreign policy in his party's debates, has threatened to try to impeach the president if he tries to bomb any facilities in Iran. Even Senator Clinton is now ruffling her relatively hawkish feathers to say she favors an entente with the Iranians. The New York Times is recommending Mr. Bush send Ms. Rice to Tehran as soon as possible. But here is something to keep in mind. The bipartisan panel cited so frequently by Democrats today was wrong about the country they were charged to fix. What would lead anyone to think they are correct about the rest of the region?