Story Highlights• Iraq Study Group report not "fruit salad," Baker says; must be taken as whole
• Iran must be held up to public scrutiny if it refuses to help in Iraq, Baker says
• McCain is at odds with report's recommendations on troops
• Calls for talks with Syria, Iran also face opposition
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairmen of the Iraq Study Group told a Senate panel Thursday that its report on the "deteriorating situation" in Iraq must be viewed as a whole and not piecemeal.
"I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad and say, 'I like this, but I don't like that,' " former Secretary of State James Baker told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "These are interdependent recommendations we make."
The report, released Wednesday, makes 79 recommendations. Among them: Most U.S. combat troops should be withdrawn by early 2008 and the U.S. should launch a "diplomatic offensive" that would include seeking help from Iran and Syria. (Watch the options the Iraq Study Group offered President Bush )
The report also calls for giving the Iraqi government incentives to meet milestones for its own security, governance and national reconciliation.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the study group, emphasized to the committee Thursday that a military solution alone would not suffice in Iraq.
"If you think you can solve the problem of Iraq by manipulating the troop levels, I think you got it dead wrong. If you think you can solve the problem by economic reconstruction or political action, I think that's wrong, too," Hamilton said. "What has to be done is that all of the tools of American power have to be integrated carefully here -- political, economic, military, for sure -- and to use those effectively."
The chairmen also urged Congress to give its thumbs up to all the recommendations in the report. Congress has been "extraordinarily timid in its exercise of its constitutional responsibilities" regarding the war, Hamilton said.
Congress can right its ship by providing "vigorous, robust oversight" as President Bush's administration works to enact its new Iraq policy, the former congressman said. (Watch the difference between Bush listening to and Bush accepting the proposals )
Some members of the Armed Services Committee hold views contrary to the group's recommendations, and Sen. John McCain, who advocates doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, grilled the chairmen on their report.
The Arizona Republican, who has said the U.S. won't win in Iraq without upping troop levels, said he disagrees with the report's assertion that troop levels can't be increased "because we do not believe that the needed levels are available for a sustained deployment." (Watch McCain warn of the perils of a stressed military -- 2:25 )
"My studies and figures show that they are available for sustained deployment, at least in order to get the situation under control," McCain said. (Listen to reactions to the report)
Reiterating the report's conclusion that the U.S. military should be playing an advisory role to Iraqi troops, Baker said the study group suggests a "five-fold increase in the U.S. combat forces dedicated to the training and equipping mission."
"We appreciate the fact that the training of forces, Iraqi forces, did not go very well for the first two years," Hamilton added.
However, he said, the U.S. has learned from its mistakes "and we believe that an intensive effort over the next 18 months can make a difference in this military training. We don't underestimate that task at all."
Iran and Syria
McCain also expressed problems with the notion of sitting down with Iran and Syria, saying, "I don't believe that a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short-term gain."
Baker, however, insisted that the talks would represent only part of the solution: "We're not suggesting a regional conference, Senator McCain, as a solution or a panacea to this. It is really only part of a comprehensive strategy." (Watch how there is no plan for victory in the group's report )
The panel's call to engage Syria and Iran in diplomatic efforts to end the Iraq war ran into opposition from senators who, along with the Bush administration, reject one-on-one talks with either country.
Iraq announced Thursday that it is planning two conferences on stability, one involving nations in the region and organizations including the Arab League and the United Nations, the other involving only Iraq's neighbors -- Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey.
Sen. Joe Lieberman seemed to tepidly support the idea of regional talks. "I believe that the United States is strong enough never to fear to sit down and talk to anyone," he said.
The Connecticut Democrat said he was concerned that Iran supports Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Islamic organization that the U.S. considers a terrorist group, and that the Islamic republic provides sophisticated explosives to militias in Iraq. Lieberman further explained he is "skeptical that it's realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq."
Even if Iran does help, Lieberman said, it may demand an "unacceptable" concession -- that the U.S. allow the nation to move forward with its nuclear program.
Baker responded that the report explicitly excludes "any linkage to the nuclear proliferation issue."
He added that while Iran agreed to help the U.S. during its operations in Afghanistan, it probably has different stakes in Iraq. Iran "probably would much prefer to see us stay bogged down in Iraq," Baker said. But it is important that the U.S. at least request help, he said.
If Iran declines, "then we will hold them up to public scrutiny as the rejectionist state that they have proven to be," Baker said.
Syria is "a totally different proposition," Baker said, because it has indicated a willingness to amend its policies in the last 15 years.
He did not elaborate, but Wednesday on CNN's "Larry King Live," Baker said, "We have diplomatic relations with Syria. We pass messages, we talk to Syria. But Syria is in a position probably perhaps to be more helpful even then Iran, because Syria is the transit point for all weapons that go to Hezbollah."
Arab-Israeli peace process
Engaging Syria in a solution for Iraq could bode well for Israel as well, Baker told the committee Thursday.
Stopping the flow of arms to Hezbollah "would cure Israel's Hezbollah problem. Secondly, [Syria has] the ability, in my opinion, to get Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist, which would give Israel a negotiating partner on the Palestinian track, something that Israel badly wants."
In compiling the report, the panel repeatedly was told that the U.S. needs to involve itself "in a very, very vigorous way" in the Arab-Israeli peace process, Baker said.
Asked what happens if Iran and Syria refuse to help, Baker responded, "If we can't do it, we can't do it. But we don't lose a darn thing by trying."
Hamilton added that the U.S. can earn legitimacy and credibility only by appealing to moderate Arabs and proving "that we are serious about dealing with the Arab-Israeli dispute. It is absolutely essential."
The co-chairs of the Iraq Study Group, James Baker III and Lee Hamilton, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Source: Iraq Study Group report
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