Let’s start by changing the policy at home

Although the White House said President Bush’s reception of the Iraq Study Group and its recommendations was one of "good will and civility" and "entirely constructive," the president had to be privately steaming at the panel’s harsh and implicit indictment of his mishandling and misjudgment of that war.

The report began with the obvious — "current policy is not working" — and then made 79 recommendations that may or may not result in a better policy. At the least, however, they are worth a try, either in whole or in part, because whatever it is we’re doing now is clearly "not working."

The recommendations range from commonsensical and even obvious — better intelligence and more Arab speakers — to the ‘nice work if you can get it,’ like encouraging international investment in Iraq’s oil fields and their security.

Some of the recommendations the Bush administration almost certainly won’t do, like engaging directly with Iran and Syria to help end the fighting in Iraq. The White House insists, as it has all along, that there will be no direct talks with Iran until it suspends its nuclear program.

Others the administration has proved incapable of doing, like working harder, which means leaning on Israel, to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Cognizant of the president’s adamant opposition to specific timetables, the study group really suggests only one — pulling out combat units not necessary for force protection by the first quarter of 2008.

The variable in that projection is if public support will last that long. Group members said it was essential that a national consensus should be built and that the nation be unified on the war.

A first step in building that consensus and unity might be for the White House to stop accusing anyone who questions or criticizes the Iraq war of undermining national security and aiding and abetting terrorism.

Changing policy in Iraq might best begin by changing policy at home.