On Iraq, President Bush Faces Stirrings of a Revolt
The House GOP leader calls antiwar Republicans 'wimps'
President Bush has warned Americans for months that it would be a long, hot summer in Iraq, marked by horrendous bombings, periodic spikes in U.S. and civilian casualties, and severe strains on everyone's patience with the war. It's all coming to passbut more rapidly than Bush might have expected.
Now, there are growing signs that the public's frustration with the war, already reflected in the ranks of antiwar Democrats, is splintering congressional Republicans away from the president's proclaimed strategy for victory. "A tipping point has been reached," says Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, as more legislators conclude that "you can't justify more people dying."
To the consternation of White House officials, the recent rebels have included several prominent and formerly loyal Republican senators, including Pete Domenici of New Mexico, George Voinovich of Ohio, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia have even drafted legislation that would require Bush to sharply narrow the U.S. mission in Iraq by year's end. They want to shift U.S troops away from policing sectarian violence and to focus instead on targeting terrorists, protecting Iraq's borders, and defending U.S. facilities. And the divisions in the GOP are getting nasty, with House Republican leader John Boehner zinging Republican defectors as "wimps." The question is whether the dissenters will back up their criticism of current policy with votes to actually withdraw U.S. troops.
Voting. The difficulty for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other antiwar Democrats is to find alternatives that will satisfy the many factions on Capitol Hill. One test came on an amendment by Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat and ex-marine, to give active-duty soldiers more time at home between combat deployments to ease the strains on military families. The proposal would have had the effect of forcing a reduction in troop levels in Iraq. It gained a majority of 56 votes in the Senate but fell short of the 60 needed to cut off debate. A Democratic House resolution calling for a pullout starting within 120 days passed 223 to 201 largely along party lines, with only 4 Republican votes, not enough to override a veto.
The House vote came in defiance of Bush, who just hours earlier insisted at a news conference that he would veto any bill imposing troop withdrawals. He argued that everyone should wait until a September report on the Iraq situation from Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Bush declared that "America is not going to back down" and argued that there is "cause for optimism" in some areas. "I will rely on General Petraeus to give me his recommendations on the appropriate troop levels in Iraq," Bush said. "...To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous," emboldening terrorists and moving the region further toward chaos.
A preliminary administration report on Iraq submitted to Congress July 12 did little to strengthen the president's hand in the looming September showdown with Congress. While it cited "satisfactory" progress by the Iraqi government on some benchmarks, such as providing three brigades for Baghdad security, the report noted that the government has failed to resolve many of the major political obstacles to national reconciliation, as illustrated by the stalemate over a measure for sharing oil revenue.