America is eagerly awaiting the report of the bipartisan Iraq study group, commonly known as the Baker report, due for release next week.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, the report “will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq”, reflecting “a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March”:

The report recommends that Mr Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.

The Baker report, together with other moves such as the dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld, have been seen as a triumph for the “realist” school of foreign policy over the neoconservatives who promoted the Iraq war.

Realists are associated especially with the administration of George Bush senior, in which Baker was secretary of state.

Hence Steven Clemons last month said: “Realists are hot again and are trying to rescue Bush’s administration from total ignominious collapse out of patriotism and loyalty to his father”. Julian Borger in The Guardian described Rumsfeld’s departure as “a near total victory for the father over the son.”

But George W Bush’s rhetoric this week shows no consciousness of having lost such a battle, much less the war. He is standing firm against the suggestion of a troop withdrawal, saying on Tuesday that “there’s one thing I’m not going to do: I’m not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”

Despite last month’s congressional election, it appears that there has been no real change of thinking in the administration. The media tend to concentrate on the neoconservatives, but the predominant influence on Bush junior – symbolised by vice-president Dick Cheney – is neither realist nor neocon but, for want of a better word, imperialist.

Leon Wieseltier puts it well in this week’s New Republic: “Rumsfeld was not fired for the results of the war. He was fired for the results of the election.” Electoral defeat demanded a sacrifice, but the results of the military debacle are yet to be fully felt in Washington.

It remains to be seen if the Baker group’s conclusions can bring them home to an obstinate president.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey