Novak: No more than TWELVE gop Senators will support "Surge"
Sen. John McCain, leading a blue-ribbon congressional delegation to Baghdad before Christmas, collected evidence that a "surge" of more U.S. troops is needed in Iraq. But not all his colleagues who accompanied him were convinced. What's more, he will find himself among a dwindling minority inside the Senate Republican caucus when Congress reconvenes this week.
President Bush and McCain, the front-runner for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, will have trouble finding support from more than 12 of the 49 Republican senators when pressing for a surge of 30,000 troops. "It's Alice in Wonderland," Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me in describing the proposal. "I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly."
Read that again: NO MORE THAN TWELVE GOP SENATORS. It is obvious that congressional Republicans cannot run away from Bush and McCain fast enough on this issue. They're getting killed politically as surely as American troops and Iraqi civilians are getting in reality.
It is interesting that Novak still considers McCain the "frontrunner" in the GOP presidential race. How McCain, a man who supports an occupation rejected by a majority of the American public and supports an escalation approved of by only 11% of the public; a man who is distrusted if not reviled by the religious right, but who panders too much to the Christianists to be taken seriously by moderate conservatives; a man who has consistently ranked near the bottom of presidential choices in polls at RedState and FreeRepublic; a man who tried and failed once already to gain his party's nomination...how this man can still be considered "frontrunner" is beyond me. The best that can be said of McCain is that he encourages as a matter of politics the same "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" ideology that he encourages as a matter of policy in Iraq. But he's stuck with his foot squarely in his mouth now, and it will be difficult for him to dislodge it.
Meanwhile, the fact Chuck Hagel may be considering retirement while McCain is spoken of as a frontrunner for the presidency shows just how far off the cliff the Republican Party has gone.
Most important, however, is this: with this kind of anemic support, Democrats can actually afford to play some fantastic political jujitsu. Many here have criticized Reid's statements that he would give the ok to an escalation as long as it were only for three to six months; the strategy is absolutely brilliant. If the Democratic majority Senate kills the surge with the help of most of the GOP minority, it's a double boon for the GOP senators: as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, they get to tell the wingnuts that the Democratic majority forced their hand and made standing up for escalation useless, while running away from Bush at the same time.
By stating that they are ok with an escalation as long as it's only very temporary--itself an impossibility--Democrats can force the Republicans to be the ones who come out stridently against Bush, the occupation of Iraq and escalation thereof. The Democrats get inocculated against the presumption that the GOP would have "won the war" but for Democratic obstructionism, while forcing the GOP to divide its moderates from its base. Bush's and McCain's hoped for escalation is unlikely to pass regardless--and even if it does, Bush and the GOP will take the vast majority of the blame for it in any case. It's a win-win situation for Dems.
After some bland discussion of the McCain Congressional Delegation to Iraq that tried to put the best possible face on the situation, Novak continues:
How big and how long should a surge be? The 7,000 or 8,000 troops that were first mentioned now have grown to at least 30,000. Congressional advocates talk privately about an infusion of manpower ending about halfway through this year. But retired general Jack Keane, who has become a leading advocate of additional troops, wrote in The Post last week: "Increasing troop levels in Baghdad for three to six months would virtually ensure defeat."
I checked with prominent Republicans around the country and found them confused and disturbed about the surge. They incorrectly assumed that the presence of Republican stalwart James Baker as co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group meant it was Bush-inspired (when it really was a bipartisan creation of Congress). Why, they ask, is the president casting aside the commission's recommendations and calling for more troops?
The mainline GOP is really blindsided by this--or at least it pretends to be. Having created and abetted an Executive that shows utter disdain for reason, reality, separation of powers and Congress itself, GOP insiders are now apparently shocked that their own Frankenstein's Monster has turned on them. I would hope that politicians of both stripes learn their lesson on allowing an unchecked executive in the name of raw political Bully Pulpit power from the events of the last six years--but I won't hold my breath.
Even in Mississippi, the reddest of red states, where Bush's approval rating has just inched above 50 percent, Republicans see no public support for more troops. What is happening inside the president's party is reflected by defection from support for his war policy after November's election by two Republican senators who face an uphill race for reelection in 2008: Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Coleman announced his opposition to the idea after returning from a trip to Iraq that preceded McCain's.
Among Democrats, Lieberman stands alone. Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, will lead the rest of the Democrats not only to oppose a surge but to block it. Bush enters a new world of a Democratic majority where he must share the stage.
You heard that correctly: even where Bush still receives an over 50% approval rating from clueless, millennarian and uninformed nutcases, there is little support for an escalation of this conflict. But the Republicans have put so many of their eggs into the Iraq basket by allowing themselves to be defined as the Party of Bush that they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. Southern Baptists in Mississippi and Alabama don't want to see more American troops dead in Iraq--but they don't want to lose hold of New Babylon and the pushing forward of the Armageddon Clock either. The GOP is in a double-bind and they know it.
As for Lieberman, well...the best I can say is that he's not officially one of us anymore.
Just as the president is ready to address the nation on Iraq, Biden next week begins three weeks of hearings on the war. On the committee, Biden and Democrats Christopher Dodd (Conn.), John Kerry (Mass.), Russell Feingold (Wis.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) will compete for intensity in criticizing a troop surge. But on the Republican side of the committee, no less probing scrutiny of Bush's proposals will come from Chuck Hagel.
And that should be quite a treat unto itself. Democrats are in an extraordinary political position right now to completely divide the Republican party while innoculating themselves from blame for Bush's disasters.
It should be a very happy New Year indeed.