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Going wobbly

The political blunder surrounding the Warner Amendment

Issue: "Trailer park blues," Nov. 26, 2005

Mark Nov. 15, 2005, on your calenders. It was either the U.S. Senate's low point in the conduct of the Global War on Terror, from which that body then recovered to go on to support victory; or it was the beginning of the Vietnamization of the Global War on Terror.

That was the day most Senate Republicans joined most Senate Democrats to pass an amendment to the defense appropriations bill sponsored by Virginia's John Warner. It urged the president to be more forthcoming with information on the war, and to push for a transition in the war's heavy lifting to Iraqi troops in 2006. Though less a rebuke than a Democratic-sponsored alternative, the 79-19 vote in favor of the Warner Amendment sent a clear signal to Americans at home, American troops in the field, Iraqis and, of course, terrorists. In the words of John Kerry, who gleefully e-mailed his supporters immediately after the vote, the vote marked the beginning of the crumbling of support for the president's policies.

How so many stalwart Republicans allowed themselves to be led to take part in the launch of the Vietnam Syndrome 2.0 is mystifying. With no warning from Sen. Warner or Majority Leader Bill Frist until the day the resolution actually passed, they perhaps expected to end-run the negative reaction that predictably poured in from the Republican base and the blogosphere. While Sen. John McCain voted against the Warner Amendment, two of his rumored rivals for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination-Mr. Frist and Virginia's George Allen-hurt themselves significantly with the part of the GOP base that views the war on terror as the No. 1 issue. Rarely has a political blunder of this scope unfolded so rapidly.

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The House must deny the Senate the political pratfall it deserves and strike the Warner Amendment from the defense appropriations bill. If the weakened leadership in the House also collapses, then the president is going to have to veto the bill and resolutely state again-especially to the weak-kneed, round-heeled members of his own party-that the battle in Iraq doesn't have a timetable, only an outcome: victory.

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