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MONDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Bakerís study group could get friend, nation out of jam

James A. Baker III has come to the Bush family's assistance before.

He helped the George W. Bush campaign manage the Florida recount of the November 2000 election, ultimately winning the presidency. Earlier, Mr. Baker was secretary of state under the first President Bush. He is a longtime Bush family friend.

So let's hope that Mr. Baker can help the current president get himself and the country out of the mess he got us into in Iraq.

Americans, Iraqis and others are dying, there is real reason to question whether we're doing more harm than good in Iraq, and most Americans are longing for an exit. Mr. Bush has derided his critics' positions as "cut and run," but he seems to have no strategy for bringing the war to a successful result, much less a conclusion.

Mr. Baker co-chairs a bipartisan commission that is studying options for Iraq. The panel will not give its report until after next month's elections, but his words last week suggest that it will point toward a strategy most people can accept, including the president.

"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run," Mr. Baker said.

The whole country should be grateful for any fresh ideas. We need something that leaves Iraq as stable as possible, minimizing the long-term damage to that country and leaving it somewhat better off than it was under Saddam Hussein. And Mr. Bush needs a solution that will enable him to save face.

If, as the polls suggest, the elections go badly for the Republican Party and the White House, Mr. Bush will find his options narrower. He may not have much choice but to find a way out of Iraq; a Democrat-controlled Congress could force his hand.

But however the politics develop, Mr. Bush ought to avoid passing the worst of his Iraq problems on to the next president. Maybe the commission, co-chaired by Mr. Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., will help show him the way.

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