Former Iraq study group co-chair speaks at U

The chief contribution of the Iraq Study Group was not its recommendations, which were largely ignored by the Bush administration, but the influence it had in changing debate about the Iraq war, said Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman and co-chair of the group.

After Bush initially ignored recommendations from the group, a bipartisan committee that called for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Hamilton said he has acknowledged the grave situation in Iraq.

“Prior to the debate, unrelentingly statements from the White House were optimistic to the point of unreality,” Hamilton said. “After the report was issued…the whole debate has shifted. The president came out and said my policy isn’t working.”

Hamilton made his comments before a full audience at the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday. He is the institute’s “Hinckley Fellow” for 2007.

Hamilton said the debate about Iraq should no longer be over whether or not the United States should withdraw troops.

“The direction of American presence in Iraq, it seems to me as pretty clear and it is out,” Hamilton said. “The question is at what pace.”

But Hamilton said the United States has a long term obligation to help correct the mess it has created in Iraq.

“I believe we are in Iraq for an extended period of time not just in a military sense, but in a political and economic sense as well,” he said.

Hamilton is an expert on foreign policy. For 34 years, he represented Indiana as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where he served as chair of the International Relations Committee. After retiring from office, he has been appointed to serve on the Iraq Study Group and as vice chair of the 9-11 Commission.

Although Hamilton says Bush is coming to accept many of the study group’s recommendations, he said the president must focus on training Iraqi forces and not allow U.S. troops to become an intermediary in sectarian conflicts.

“We will not really get out of Iraq until we make the training of Iraqi forces the primary mission,” Hamilton said. “The primary role of U.S. forces today is not that, it is the (troop) surge.”

Hamilton also stressed the need for a political settlement to quell conflict between Iraq’s rival ethnic group — the Sunni, Kurds and Shia.

“I want to see a much more robust diplomatic effort,” he said. “They are not moving aggressively toward any kind of political accommodation.”

He said he has lost confidence in Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his ability to broker a political solution.

“I’ve come to the view that Maliki isn’t really an Iraqi leader, but he is a sectarian leader,” Hamilton said.

In turn, Hamilton also stressed the need for the United States to act more pragmatically in its negotiations with other countries. He said the United States needs to once again actively engage allies and adversaries.

In the case of Iran and the possibility of the Iranian government acquiring nuclear weapons, Hamilton said the United States needs to have talks with the rogue regime without setting preconditions.

For the United States to remain the dominant global power and again assert itself as the leader of the international community, our government must build coalitions with allies and seek consensus in the United Nations and other institutions, Hamilton said.

“I hope (in the future) that we will be less likely to divide up the world between good and evil,” he said. “And I hope we’ll have a better understanding of the limits of what we can achieve alone in the world.”

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Tyler Cobb

Lee Hamilton listens to his introduction before delivering a speech about US international relations in the Hinckley Institute of Politics Caucus Room. Hamilton spoke on US international relations.