What's the plan Mr President?

The Iraq Study Group's Report has fueled a critical national conversation about our government's strategy for the Middle East and Iraq.  The Bush Administration's approach, despite hundreds of billions spent, ten of thousands of American casualties, and a great loss of our prestige, has left the Middle East much more dangerous and unstable than we found it.  In the next few months we must settle on a new approach that responds to the gravity of the situation there today, as described by the ISG in its executive summary:

The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability. The Iraqi people have a democratically elected government, yet it is not adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized. (add - Iran could become a nuclear power, the Lebanese government could fall, a regional Sunni-Shiite war could break out, oil could soar to unprecedented levels). 

As was widely reported (Times, Post), yesterday Bush threw more cold water the Report, and said he was coming up with a new strategy of his own.  We should welcome the President's change of heart, and his recognition that his current Middle Eastern strategy has failed.  But if he has rejected the two central premises of the ISG Report, two relatively simple steps, then we need to hold his new proposal to the highest standard - how it is proposing to restore stability to what has become the most troubled region of the world? How is it dealing with this reality of the Middle East as expressed in these two paragraphs above?

As I wrote yesterday, I have very little faith that this Administration has the capacity to imagine a different and better path forward.  Their simplistic foreign policy vision seems very ill-equipped to deal with the complexities in front of them (like the rise of the Shiites); Rice has been greatly diminished; and her most important advisory positions are vacant.  The Times' David Sanger has a must-read piece on the ideological battle underlying the Report's conclusions, and captured here:

They start from completely different places,” said Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator who worked for Mr. Baker years ago and left the State Department early in the Bush administration. “Baker approaches everything with a negotiator’s mindset. That doesn’t mean every negotiation leads to a deal, but you engage your adversaries and use your leverage to change their behavior. This administration has never had a negotiator’s mind-set. It divides the world into friends and foes, and the foes are incorrigible and not redeemable. There has been more of an instinct toward regime change than to changing regime behavior.”

So the test for the President in these next few weeks is to show that he understands the gravity of the situation in the Middle East, recognizes that our strategy isn't working, and offers a new strategy, grounded in a new diplomatic approach, that works to restore stability in what has become the most troubled and dangerous region in the world today.