George Bush has a history of long-overdue u-turns. He waited until he woke up, hungover, one morning at age 40 before giving up booze cold. He fought the idea of a homeland-security agency for eight months after 9/11 and then scampered aboard and called it his idea. He dumped Donald Rumsfeld last month as Defense Secretary, although lawmakers and even some generals had been calling for his head since 2005. Bush's biggest reversals usually come after months--even years--of stubborn resistance, when just about everyone has given up on his having any second thoughts at all. That's always been the point: he's a decider, he says, and deciders aren't supposed to undecide. When he does have to Kojak the car and head down the street in the opposite direction, he takes a little extra time getting it done.
But Bush has never had to pull off a U-turn like the one he is contemplating now: to give up on his dream of turning Babylon into an oasis of freedom and democracy and instead begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq, rewrite the mission of the 150,000 U.S. troops there as they begin to draw down, and launch a diplomatic Olympics across the Middle East and between Israel and the Palestinians. Even calling all that a reversal is a misnomer; it would be more like a personality transplant.
So it may take the 43rd President a little more time than it normally does to execute this particular U-turn. And he will do all he can to make it look more like a lane change. But sometime in the next month or so, Bush will begin the biggest foreign policy course correction of his presidency. No matter what else may get stapled onto it, the maneuver will be based on the agreement reached by the bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton. Bush aides said last week that there is already agreement on the name for the restart: A New Way Forward, which borrows from the commission's own title, The Way Forward--New Approach. Among people who have known Bush for decades, there is almost as much certainty that he needs to disengage from Iraq as there are doubts about whether he has the wiring and instincts--much less the desire--to pull it off. "He is not stupid," says a commission source. "But he is stubborn. And he is very dug in. It takes a big person to find a way to walk back from some of this and embrace reality."
THE PRESIDENT IS ABOUT TO GET A LOT OF reality therapy. The Baker-Hamilton commission's work has been compared to a family intervention for a substance-addicted cousin, but unlike those encounters, this one won't remain behind closed doors. The entire 10-person commission will brief the President this Wednesday and then repeat the lesson for congressional leaders, both incoming and outgoing, later the same day. What happens next is designed to be even more convincing: several days of nonstop interviews on every media outlet, network and cable-TV station--a media blitz that will run well into the Sunday-morning news programs.