WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a longtime Republican strategist, is preparing recommendations that President George W. Bush reconsider his "stay-the-course" strategy in Iraq.
Referring to a bipartisan commission he co-chairs, Baker said, "We are taking a look at other alternatives."
With his remarks Sunday on ABC News' "This Week," Baker joined a growing list of prominent Republicans critical of Bush's Iraq strategy in the weeks leading to congressional elections on Nov. 7.
But he agrees in part with the administration. "If we picked up and left right now" Iraq would be plunged into "the biggest civil war you've ever seen," with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved, Baker said.
As secretary of state, Baker was a close adviser to Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, before and during the first Gulf war in 1991, which forced Iraq to reverse its annexation of Kuwait but did not march to Baghdad to unseat President Saddam Hussein.
Baker and other Bush advisers recommended against extending the war until Saddam was out of power. "As much as Saddam's neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in ways that would play into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran," Baker said.
Today in Iraq, "The risk is certainly there, the same risk," Baker said.
He said proposals from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan team he co-chairs with Democratic former Rep. Lee Hamilton, probably would be ready and made public when Congress returns after the Nov. 7 congressional elections. He said the findings would not be released before the elections to avoid miring them in electoral politics.
Bush has asserted he intends to "stay the course" In Iraq, despite mounting casualties and failure of Iraqi security forces to suppress the violence.
Baker did not disclose specific proposals that might be adopted by the joint commission. He said "our commission believes there are alternatives" between staying the course and a precipitous troop evacuation.
On a related topic, the former secretary of state questioned the administration's policy of not talking to Iran or Syria.
He noted he made 15 trips to Damascus as secretary of state. Syria eventually joined the U.S.-organized coalition that drove the Iraqis from Kuwait.
"I don't think you restrict your conversations to your friends," he said.
"It's got to be hard-nosed," Baker said. "It's got to be determined. You don't give away anything. But in my view it is not appeasement to talk to your enemies."