The September Club

I’m not sure exactly when September became the unofficial deadline for Congress to make up its mind about Iraq. The White House might have moved the first down marker to September at some point — they move it so much it’s hard to keep up. Or, it might have been the report from Andrea Mitchell last April that “the moderate center of the Republican caucus” had decided to give the President until Labor Day to show some progress. “After that, if it doesn’t work, they’re running.”

Lots of people don’t believe September will matter, and they could be right. I think some Republicans will jump ship in September, but I have no idea if enough of them will jump ship to make a real difference. Reaching a veto-proof majority would require approximately a third of Republicans in the House and Senate to vote with the Dem majority against the war (if all the Dems in the House voted against the war it would take somewhat less than a third, but so far the House Dems haven’t been unanimous).

The claim that the decision to stay or go rests with Gen. Petraeus’ September report has never been anything other than a rhetorical device. The real “report” will be in the form of campaign poll numbers. As the 2008 election season approaches, all but the most reptilian-brained Republicans will be re-evaluating their positions in Iraq vis à vis their future political careers. As unpopular as the war is, however, it’s going to take a huge leap into the unknown for Republicans to abandon the President and the Faux Snooze team and vote against the war.

We do make fun of Democrats for being spineless wonders. But both parties are like old dogs still doing the few tricks they learned when they were puppies. Democrats are “spineless” because they don’t work together to throw their collective weight around. But Republicans for years have been powerful because they’ve been monolithic. They’re a tightly packed herd always moving in the same direction, stomping everything in its path. This has been true for so long that most (if not all) Republicans now serving in Congress don’t comprehend any other way to be a congressional Republican. So you’ve got a whole generation of Republicans whose only tricks are to recite GOP talking points and vote as the party tells them to vote.

In other words, although the GOP herd is mighty, as individuals Republicans probably are just as spineless as the Dems. So most of ’em will stampede off the cliff with the rest of the herd. Conversely, if enough Republicans do split from the herd — and I have no idea what number “enough” is — more may choose to follow.

And if the herd breaks with Bush over the immigration issue, which it seems to be doing, would that not make it easier for it to break with him on Iraq, also?

The bottom line is that many things are possible these days. Our political situation is more fluid than it has been in years. All that’s holding the old status quo together is a failure of nerve, and a refusal to understand changing realities, among politicians of both parties.

In the past few days it has become obvious even to war supporters that the situation in Iraq won’t be better by September. If anything, it will be worse. So now they’re frantically shoving the goal posts as far into the distance as they can; clear out of the stadium and into another zip code, if possible.

Around the beginning of June the Great New Talking Point trickling out of the White House and dutifully repeated by Bushie operatives everywhere was “the Korea model.” David Sanger reported for the New York Times on June 3:

For the first time, the Bush administration is beginning publicly to discuss basing U.S. troops in Iraq for years, even decades to come, a subject so fraught with political land mines that officials are tiptoeing around the inevitable questions about what the long-term mission would be there.

President George W. Bush has long talked about the need to maintain a U.S. military presence in the region, without saying exactly where. Several visitors to the White House say that in private, he has sounded intrigued by what he calls the “Korea model,” a reference to the large U.S. presence in South Korea for the 54 years since the armistice that ended open hostilities between North and South Korea.

But it was not until Wednesday that Bush’s spokesman, Tony Snow, publicly reached for the Korea example in talking about Iraq – setting off an analogy war between the White House and critics who charged that the administration was again disconnected from the realities of Iraq.

Snow said Korea was one way to think about how the mission could evolve into an “over-the-horizon support role” whenever U.S. troops are no longer patrolling the streets of Baghdad.

The next day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also mentioned Korea, saying that establishing a long-term garrison was a lot smarter than how the United States handled its departure from Vietnam, “where we just left lock, stock and barrel.”

Bush must really, really like “the Korea model,” because the Bushies are sticking with it. Never mind that the Iraq situation resembles the Korean situation about as much as soap resembles spinach. With righties, rhetoric is reality, and a catchy talking point is worth a thousand pages of policy.

But you know they’re desperate, because many of the arguments they had hoped to postpone until after the August brush harvest at Crawford are already being argued. Arianna Huffington writes that “The battle for September has already begun.” Gen. Petraeus himself is already saying there will be no progress by September.

Meaning, the Bushies are pulling out all the stops to defuse the notion that September represents some kind of deadline. That’s a good enough reason for Democrats to continue to talk about a September deadline. Dems should be getting in front of cameras and microphones every bleeping day between now and Labor Day quoting every Republican who said anything about making a decision in September. Club Republicans over the head vigorously with the September deadline. And if Republicans wimp out, club them some more. Real hard.

See also:
Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh, “We’ve Lost. Here’s How to Handle It“; and Andrew J. Bacevich, “More Troops, More Troubles.”