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The Baker-Hamilton Commission (aka Iraq Study Group)

Author: Lionel Beehner
Updated: December 6, 2006
This publication is now archived.

What are the origins of the Iraq Study Group (ISG)?

In March 2006, as the security situation and sectarian violence in Iraq took a turn for the worse after the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) suggested creating an outside commission of prominent foreign policy figures to provide “fresh eyes” and propose recommendations on resolving the conflict in Iraq. The ten-person panel, whose membership comprises five Republicans and five Democrats, issued its report on December 6, 2006. The commission is headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, a close friend of the Bush family, and former Indiana Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, who also cochaired the 9/11 Commission, and is being coordinated through the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a government-funded think tank.  

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Who sits on the commission?

Two of the commission’s original five Republicans, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Robert M. Gates, have dropped out—Giuliani due to his lack of time and Gates because of his appointment to succeed Donald Rumfeld as defense secretary.

On the Republican side, other panelists include: Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who briefly served as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush and is a career foreign service officer; Edwin Meese, III, Ronald Reagan’s former attorney general now at the Heritage Foundation; Sandra Day O’Connor, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from Arizona who retired in 2005 after a quarter-century on the bench; Alan K. Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming (1979-1997) who now teaches at the University of Wyoming.

On the Democratic side, members include: Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a senior managing director at Lazard LLC, a New-York-based investment bank; Leon E. Panetta, Clinton’s former chief of staff, who now heads the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University, Monterey Bay; William J. Perry, Clinton’s secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997 and a mathematician who is now a professor at Stanford University; Charles S. Robb, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, governor of Virginia (1982-1986), and U.S. senator (1989-2001) who now is a professor of law and public policy at George Mason University School of Law.

The panelists were selected by Baker and Hamilton, in consultation with USIP. In addition to the ten principals, there are some forty-four experts from academia, think tanks, and the public sector who work on a pro bono basis and advise on issues of economic reconstruction, political development, and military strategy.   

How has the Iraq Study Group come up with its findings?

Over the past year, the group’s panelists have met, interviewed, or consulted with hundreds of high-ranking current and former officials, most of them in the United States or Iraq, as well as senior military officers, nongovernmental organization leaders, and academics. They have consulted foreign policy experts ranging from former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. They have interviewed members of President Bush’s cabinet, including the president and vice president, the administration's top ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Iraqi leaders of all sectarian stripes, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Baker also reportedly met in September with Iran's UN ambassador, Javad Zarif, at his New York residence for a three-hour discussion focusing on Iraq, and members of the ISG repeatedly contacted Syria's Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha. The purpose of this research, according to the USIP's website, is to provide a nonpartisan, forward-leaning assessment of the situation in Iraq and offer strategic advice to U.S. policymakers.

What is the precedent for such a panel?

In American conflicts past, from Vietnam to the first Gulf War, a number of commissions have been convened to provide outside analysis and policy recommendations. Some were informal: In early March 1968, in the midst of the Tet Offensive, Lyndon B. Johnson convened a panel of foreign policy experts and other “wise men” to offer him advice on Vietnam. The commission—which included Clark M. Clifford, who succeeded Robert McNamara as defense secretary, and former Secretary of State Dean Acheson—urged the president to begin pulling out of Vietnam.

Other past commissions were more formal: In November 1986, after the Iran-Contra Affair broke, then-President Ronald Reagan announced the creation of an outside panel that became known as the Tower Commission, named for its chair, John Tower, a former Republican senator from Texas (1961-1985). It was tasked to investigate the National Security Council’s handling of the crisis as well as U.S. policy in Central America. More recently, after the attacks of 9/11, Congress created the so-called 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel to provide an account of the attacks, including the United States’ preparedness for the attacks and its immediate response. The 9/11 Commission—which was chaired by Lee Hamilton and former Republican governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, and formed at the urging of victims’ families—found a number of communications failures between various intelligence (Central Intelligence Agency) and law-enforcement agencies (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and outlined a long list of recommendations to avoid such failures in the future. 

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