May 29, 2007

Baker-Hamilton Redux

The U.S. public remains enthusiastic about the bipartisan proposals

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Four months after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group proposed a number of new policy options for dealing with the Iraq conflict, these proposals remain broadly popular with the public.

Solid majorities favor both initiating talks with Iran and Syria to encourage cooperation on Iraq (66%), and trying harder to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (59%). An April 2007 Pew survey finds that opinion on these proposals has changed little since December, when they were first recommended by the panel led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton.

Support for shifting the primary mission of U.S. troops from fighting insurgents to supporting the Iraqi army as declined somewhat from December, although a majority still supports the idea; 55% favor this proposal now, compared with 62% in December.

The most contentious recommendation by the Baker-Hamilton commission was that the U.S. should end its support of the Iraqi government if it failed to make substantial progress. A narrow majority (52%) supports this proposal, while 36% are opposed. Opinion on this proposal is also virtually unchanged since December when 52% favored the recommendations and 38% opposed it.

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Of special note with regard to public reactions to the Baker Hamilton proposals is the lack of a partisan division. On no item do Republicans and Democrats take opposing views. Instead, the balance of opinion across party lines is remarkably even. This stands in stark contrast to virtually all other questions about the war in Iraq.

Although the report met with little enthusiasm among either Republicans or Democrats when it was first issued, commentators have noted that increasingly some of its key recommendations have been pursued by both the Bush administration and Congress. For example, the administration has widened its diplomacy with respect to Iraq, including discussions with Syria and Iran, increased its attention to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and stepped up efforts to train and arm Iraqi armed forces. Meanwhile Congress has pressed for the establishment of benchmarks against which progress by the Iraqi government can be measured.