Features

Combat fatigue

Iraq | Republicans in the Senate divide over Bush plan to send more troops to Iraq

Issue: "Faith-based campaigning," Jan. 27, 2007

After a face-to-face with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Egypt on Jan. 17 signed a statement in support of President Bush's new strategy in Iraq. On this side of the ocean, though, even members of the president's own party aren't so sure.

While widespread Democratic opposition to the administration's "surge" plan was as certain as sunrise, significant GOP pushback was surprising. Within 24 hours of Bush unveiling his plan-which would increase U.S. troop strength by 22,000-an informal survey by The Washington Times found seven Republican senators who rejected the strategy, nine who had "doubts," and 11 who expressed only conditional support.

"This is the president's Hail Mary pass," said Sen. Gordon H. Smith, an Oregon Republican. "We are extending an ineffective tactic to further the status quo."

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Given Smith's impassioned anti-war speech on the Senate floor in December, his opposition to the Bush plan is no more startling than that of Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Arlen Specter (Penn.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (both of Maine), who often differ with the president.

More surprising is resistance from Bush allies like Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. He does not support pulling out of Iraq and leaving behind "a security vacuum or a safe haven for terrorists." But he said his meetings with Iraqi leaders in early January suggest that the United States "cares more about a peaceful Iraq than the Iraqis do. If that is the case, it is difficult to understand why more U.S. troops would make a difference."

Several GOP senators said that upping troop strength would increase American casualties while doing little to curb violence in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) favors instead broader diplomatic talks with Iraq's neighbors. "Although it is unlikely that a political settlement in Iraq can be imposed from the outside," he said, "it is equally unlikely that one will succeed in the absence of external pressure and incentives."

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate, meanwhile, planned to introduce non-binding resolutions opposing the Bush plan, forcing a vote that puts all members of Congress on the record following the president's State of the Union speech Jan. 23.

Going forward, what does it all mean?

Tactically, very little, said Boston University history professor Andrew J. Bacevich: "Historical precedent, building on the language of the Constitution, has given the president very wide latitude as commander-in-chief. Given that Congress authorized this war, it will be very difficult for them now to try to micromanage the way the president conducts it."

Michigan State University political science professor William Allen agrees, and he doubts that even those GOP senators who are firmly opposed to the surge plan would vote to cut funding for the war. But the political effect of any anti-Bush congressional resolutions could be significant. "What [Republicans] do by voting for a resolution of disfavor is deepen public disaffection with the war," Allen said. That would further damage the administration's ability to sustain its policy in Iraq.

Allen noted that Bush is not the first president to face heavy opposition from both Congress and the people on issues of portentous consequence to the nation. In 1796, George Washington faced widespread opposition to the Jay Treaty, a document meant to resolve post--Revolutionary War difficulties with Britain. But a campaign by Alexander Hamilton and Rep. Fisher Ames of Massachusetts turned the tide in Washington's favor.

While Hamilton wrote a series of newspaper essays demonstrating the dangers to which opponents of the treaty would subject the country, Ames argued for the treaty in Congress, putting pressure on House members to justify the risks posed by their opposition.

With public support for Bush's handling of Iraq hovering around 30 percent and a significant slice of his own party wavering, Allen said, "The president really needs to have someone besides himself showing what's at stake in Iraq, and what risks the senators' position on Iraq poses to the nation."

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