Convening a bipartisan "study" group is the oldest trick in the Washington playbook, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Most recently, the 9/11 Commission helped us find our way out of the paralysis resulting from the attack on our homeland. Two decades earlier, the Tower Report rescued Ronald Reagan from the Iran-Contra mess. In 1968, the Kerner Commission helped Lyndon Johnson find solutions to the race riots inflaming America's cities. Less successfully, the Warren Commission tried - and failed - in 1964 to bring the nation together behind a single theory of the assassination of John F. Kennedy a year earlier. And FDR used the Roberts Commission to investigate America's failure to prevent the attack at Pearl Harbor.
Watching today's news conference, and reading this report, I wondered whether this would in fact be one of those special moments of conciliation, whether today's blunt prescription could bridge the partisan divide between both parties in Congress and the White House. Certainly that's the obvious yearning of most voters in the midterm elections.
Contrary to selective leaks, the report is very detailed. The staff work was done primarily by the U.S. Institute of Peace, one of the lesser known but more effective Washington think tanks.
Most remarkable was reading and listening to the unanimity of the conclusions. Does anyone but me recall that former Attorney General Ed Meese was one of Jim Baker's fiercest critics when they both served in the Reagan White House? And that Leon Panetta was Bill Clinton's chief of staff when Sandra Day O'Connor was a decisive vote on the Supreme Court to end the Florida recount, giving the White House to George W. Bush? Most of the panel members are charter members of Washington's political establishment, but that doesn't mean they are logical partners in crafting a tough, detailed report like this one. And you have to go pretty far to beat Lee Hamilton's terse answer to whether the group was giving up on the president's original lofty goal to create a democratic Iraq: "We want to stay current."
There will be a lot of time for analysis. Was Jim Baker a stand-in for the president's father? Is George W. Bush capable of reversing course? Will the Democrats stop saying "I told you so" long enough to help rescue the administration, and the country, from one of its worst foreign policy crises? Will Iran and Syria stop fueling Iraq's insurgents and become part of an eventual solution? And will the secretary of state launch a high-risk "diplomatic offensive" without a guarantee of a successful outcome?
None of us knows how to answer those questions, but as a start, today was a pretty good day. Alan Simpson said maybe it's corny, maybe it won't work, "but it's sure as hell better than sitting there where we are right now."