This week's Senate defeat of a Democratic bill to force U.S. withdrawals from Iraq has set the stage for a battle royal over the war that will last through the summer and build in intensity until mid-September, according to strategists for all sides.
That's when Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is scheduled to issue a formal report on how the conflict is going. In the meantime, strategists say the home-front battle over Iraq is shaping up as one of the most significant political campaigns of recent memory. In the Capitol, Democratic leaders will be looking for ways to push various antiwar measures and force Republicans to take stands on them--all to create problems for GOP legislators up for re-election next year.
Most Americans now oppose the war, although many Republican voters still back President Bush's policies. And there is no consensus on what to do next, making the political dynamic all the more volatile. Republican strategists will portray the Democrats as advocates of "cut and run" and, more broadly, weak on defense. Outside groups that oppose the war, such as MoveOn.org, say they will take their campaign to the grass roots in order to undercut GOP senators whose jobs are at stake in November 2008.
For their part, White House officials are mobilizing a huge PR effort using all the powers of incumbency to make their case that Bush's Iraq policies are working and that the United States must stay the course.
--Kenneth T. Walsh