Will the GOP crack? And if so, when? Charles Babington writes for the Associated Press:
Republicans in Congress are increasingly worried that their stalwart support of President Bush’s Iraq war policy may cost them dearly in next year’s elections. Should their solidarity crack, it could boost Democrats’ efforts to start troop withdrawals.
GOP lawmakers have marched in virtual lockstep with Bush so far, supporting his troop increase, an open-ended war commitment and other policies that have grown increasingly unpopular. Privately, some express fears that their loyalty might lead them over a political cliff in 2008, when they hope to reclaim the House and Senate majorities they lost last year.
For now, there’s little overt evidence of such wavering, and many Republicans say it’s too late to uncouple their party’s near-term fate from the war’s outcome. When the House voted May 2 to sustain Bush’s veto of a bill that would have imposed redeployment deadlines, only two of the chamber’s 201 Republicans abandoned the president.
Still, Rep. Jack Kingston, a reliable Bush supporter from Georgia, said that vote â€œcould have been the peak, possibly the last statement of House public solidarity with the White House. As the war develops in the next two crucial months, the political solidarity may change.â€
A question increasingly asked in the Capitol is: how big a price might the party pay if the war continues to claim U.S. casualties without quelling the anti-American insurgency?
The time is coming when Republicans in Congress must decide: Stand firm with the Bush Administration, or abandon ship? Senators who don’t face re-election next year perhaps can remain noncommittal, but the 20 or so who must begin campaigning for their seats soon don’t have that luxury.
Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, one of two Senate Republicans to support the latest spending bill for the conflict, said the war â€œis a problem because it’s defining our party to the American people, and the American people have lost faith in this cause.â€
â€œMany Republican colleagues are simply waiting until September,â€ he said, citing the deadline Bush gave to Army Gen. David Petraeus for a progress report on the war. Unless there is a dramatic turnabout by then, Smith said, the party’s near-unanimity is almost certain to fracture.
Conventional wisdom is often wrong, of course, but the CW for some time has been that if matters in Iraq have not substantially improved by August or so, the scramble for the lifeboats will begin.
Of course, most of these same politicians will have to walk a fine line between the anti-Iraq War general public and the rabidly hawkish right-wing base. They’ll try to keep one foot on the deck and one in the lifeboat. Can we say “self-destruct,” children?
Jim Tankersley writes in the Chicago Tribune that Democrats also are looking to September.
President Bush appears poised to win months more of funding for troops in Iraq. But if conditions don’t improve there by fall, he could lose support from a battalion of congressional Republicans.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, while still debating details, say they are likely to pass a bill that would tie war spending to a set of benchmarks for Iraq’s progress but no deadlines for troop withdrawal, which caused Bush to veto a funding bill this week. They would then address the war in other debates this summer and let political pressure mount on the GOP.
“This is going to be a step-by-step process, continuing to isolate” the president, said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the House Democratic Caucus chairman. “The key to that is to basically get Republicans who say, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore.’ “
Yeah, I know, it’s Rahm Emanuel. But bear with me here.
Privately and publicly, some House Republicans and their staff say defections could come as early as September, when Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of American troops in Iraq, returns to brief Congress on the progress of Bush’s “troop surge” of nearly 30,000 to quell insurgent fighters.
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said the briefing will be a different sort of “benchmark” for a Republican caucus that has so far stood nearly united behind the president against troop withdrawals.
“That [unity] will change very abruptly and very quickly in September if the report is not good,” he said. “People are going to be looking at their next election. Their next election will be right around the corner, and the war will be the big issue.”
I think that were it not for the “surge,” many more Republicans would have bailed out by now. I say again, the whole point of the “surge” was not to turn around the war in Iraq but to buy Bush more time. He’s trying to run out the clock. Of course, I fully except him to emerge from his August vacation with some other “great leap forward” scheme to present to Congress.
Despite protests from such anti-war groups as MoveOn.org, which is pushing for a “concrete” deadline for ending the war in the next funding bill, Democratic leaders including Emanuel and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) say they don’t have the votes to override a Bush veto and they don’t want to risk cutting off funding for troops in the field.
Faced with the prospect of losing anti-war Democrats in the Senate, who will not support a bill without a withdrawal timeline, Durbin said the only choice is to work with Republicans on a compromise.
Analysts say that could help Democrats in purely political terms. A compromise allows Democrats to keep criticizing the war without taking “ownership” of it from Bush, and without opening themselves to Vietnam-style accusations of undermining a war before it had a chance to succeed, said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution who supports the deployment of the extra troops.
“There’s a political person who says, you’re better to wait until September to have your big fight,” O’Hanlon said. “Because that way, you’ll have given the surge a chance.”
For now, Dem Seator Dick Durbin says he thinks Congress “put something on the president’s desk that either he accepts through negotiations or cannot afford to veto.” However, I have serious doubts if Bush will compromise at all. As this Reuters article by Matt Spetalnick says, he sees his own inflexibility as his chief virtue.
What it means in practical terms, however, is no end in sight to political gridlock in Washington. The president’s veto on Tuesday of legislation that would have imposed a timetable for US troop withdrawal from Iraq could be the first of many legislative standoffs to come in his final 21 months in office. “George W Bush is of a mind-set that says, ‘You’re not going to tell us what to do,'” said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. “The ‘decider’ still hasn’t learned to be the compromiser.”
And compromise isn’t going to get any easier. Facing a Democratic-led Congress challenging his conduct of the war and using its broad authority to investigate his administration, Bush is digging in his heels even harder as he fights to stave off lame-duck status. He is also defying calls to dump Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the botched firing of federal prosecutors, and to withdraw support for Paul Wolfowitz, an Iraq war architect now embroiled in scandal as president of the World Bank.
In defending his loyalists, Bush is signaling how far he is willing to go to avoid the message of weakness that their forced departure might send, analysts say. Adding to Bush’s pressures, a new book by former CIA chief George Tenet accuses administration officials of going to war in Iraq without “serious debate” on whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat. The White House denies the charge.
But Bush seems to take pride in shrugging off such problems. Barred by law from seeking a third term, he also appears more than willing to buck public opinion. He comes across as almost unshakable is his belief that history will vindicate him for an increasingly unpopular war that has driven his approval ratings down into the mid-30 percent range and eroded US credibility at home and abroad.
This paragraph in particular interested me:
Still, some analysts say Bush is not as inflexible as he might seem and that his second-term woes have been magnified by Iraq, the overarching issue of his presidency. He has, for example, softened over time on immigration reform and domestic spying and recently turned more pragmatic in dealing with North Korea, a country he once shunned as a charter member of what he had branded the “axis of evil.” “Is he stubborn? Certainly. Is he resolute? Yes,” said Stephen Hess, a political scientist at George Washington University. “But Iraq makes everything look worse than it is.”
I’m willing to bet that the only reason Bush “softened” on North Korea is that he chose to become disengaged and allow the State Department to handle it without his input. I say this because that’s one way a psychopath deals with something he can’t bully or control — he shoves it out of his mind. In the first several months of his first term Bush was visibly outspoken on all matters Korean. Now, even though news stories about the North Korean situation attribute policy changes to Bush, if you read them carefully you really don’t see Bush at all. You see the State Department, you see diplomats; Bush is so far behind the scenes he’s invisible.
In related news — take a look at who’s chosing to spend more time with his family. Peter Baker writes for the Washington Post:
Deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch II, who helped spearhead the recent policy review that led President Bush to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, announced yesterday that he will step down early next month, becoming the latest key aide to depart the White House at a critical juncture.
Crouch, the No. 2 official at the National Security Council, has been a pivotal figure on a series of difficult issues, including Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and the detention policy for terrorism suspects. And it was his interagency group meeting at the White House complex for many weeks last winter that resulted in the ongoing troop buildup in Iraq, which has become the defining decision of the year for Bush.
In an interview, Crouch said he is leaving to devote more time to his family after six years in the administration.
He really said that. Wow.
Peter Baker writes that “Meghan O’Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, also plans to resign soon.” Interesting.