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Iraq war has republicans on the run

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Iraq war has republicans on the run PostThu Aug 18, 2005 2:26 am  Reply with quote  

What's to worry about? It's fixed anyway...

Bad Iraq War News Has Some in G.O.P. Worried Over '06 Vote

A stream of bad news out of Iraq - echoed at home by polls that show growing impatience with the war and rising disapproval of President Bush's Iraq policies - is stirring political concern in Republican circles, party officials said Wednesday.

Some said that the perception that the war was faltering was providing a rallying point for dispirited Democrats and could pose problems for Republicans in the Congressional elections next year.

Republicans said a convergence of events - including the protests inspired by the mother of a slain American soldier outside Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas, the missed deadline to draft an Iraqi Constitution and the spike in casualties among reservists - was creating what they said could be a significant and lasting shift in public attitude against the war.

The Republicans described that shift as particularly worrisome, occurring 14 months before the midterm elections. As further evidence, they pointed to a special election in Ohio two weeks ago, where a Democratic marine veteran from Iraq who criticized the invasion decision came close to winning in a district that should have easily produced a Republican victory.

"There is just no enthusiasm for this war," said Representative John J. Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican who opposes the war. "Nobody is happy about it. It certainly is not going to help Republican candidates, I can tell you that much."

Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who originally supported the war but has since turned against it, said he had encountered "a lot of Republicans grousing about the situation as a whole and how they have to respond to a lot of questions back home.

"I have been to a lot of funerals," Mr. Gilchrest said.

The concern has grown particularly acute as lawmakers have returned home for a Congressional recess this month. Several have seen first-hand how communities are affected by the deaths of a group of local reservists.

In Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Jr., a Democratic challenger to Rick Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, attacked Mr. Santorum on Wednesday for failing to question the management of the war. Mr. Casey said that would be a major issue in what is quite likely to be one of the most closely watched Senate races next year.

Republicans said they were losing hope that the United States would be effectively out of Iraq - or at least that casualties would stop filling the evening news programs- by the time the Congressional campaigns begin in earnest. Mr. Bush recently declined to set any timetable for withdrawing United States troops.

Grover Norquist, a conservative activist with close ties to the White House and Mr. Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, said: "If Iraq is in the rearview mirror in the '06 election, the Republicans will do fine. But if it's still in the windshield, there are problems."

Given the speed with which public opinion has shifted over the course of the war and the size of the Republican majority in the Senate and House, no one has gone so far as to suggest that war policy could return Democrats to power in the House or the Senate.

Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign, said he believed that the war would fade as an issue by next year and that even if it did not the elections would, as typically the case, be decided by local issues.

"I'm not concerned," Mr. Reynolds said. "Fifteen months away is a long time, and I don't see it. It's going to get back to the important issues of what's going on in the district. When it gets down to candidates, it's what's going on in the street that matters."

Some Republicans suggested that the White House was not handling the issue adroitly, saying its insistence the war was going well was counterproductive.

"Any effort to explain Iraq as 'We are on track and making progress' is nonsense," Newt Gingrich, a Republican who is a former House speaker, said. "The left has a constant drumbeat that this is Vietnam and a bottomless pit. The daily and weekly casualties leave people feeling that things aren't going well."

Republicans, Mr. Gingrich said, should make the case for "blood, sweat and toil" as part of a much larger war against "the irreconcilable wing of Islam."

Over the considerably longer term, the Iraqi turmoil raises a possibility that the war could again help shape a presidential nominating contest. Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant with ties to two potential candidates for 2008, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, predicted that there would be a Republican equivalent of Howard Dean, a Republican candidate opposing the war. He also predicted that such a candidate would not succeed.

Pollsters and political analysts pointed to basic opinion shifts that accounted for the political change. Daniel Yankelovich, a pollster who has been studying attitudes on foreign affairs, said: "I think what's changed over the last year is the assumption that Iraq would make us safer from terrorists to wondering if that actually is the case. And maybe it's the opposite."

Richard A. Viguerie, a veteran conservative direct mail consultant, said that Mr. Bush "turned the volume up on his megaphone about as high as it could go to try to tie the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism" last year and argued that the White House could no longer do that.

"I just don't think it washes after all these years," Mr. Viguerie said.

The other changing factor is the continued drop in Mr. Bush's job approval rating that could make him less welcome on the campaign trail.

"If this continues to drag down Bush's approval ratings, Republican candidates will be running with Bush as baggage, not as an asset," Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said. "Should his numbers go much lower, he is going to be a problem for Republican candidates in 2006."

The near success in Ohio by Democrats was achieved after the party had enlisted an Iraq veteran, Paul L. Hackett, who nearly defeated Jean Schmidt.

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional campaign committee, Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, said he was talking to four or five other Iraq veterans to run in open seats or against weak Republican incumbents.

The chairman of the Senate Democratic campaign committee, Charles E. Schumer of New York, said, "There is no question that the Iraq war, without any light at the end of the tunnel apparent to the American people, is becoming more and more a ball and chain rapidly weighing down the administration."

Mr. Schumer, reflecting continued Democratic nervousness at being portrayed as being disrespectful of troops, added, "I have been more supportive of the president's war on terror than many Democrats."

This week in Rhode Island, Secretary of State Matthew A. Brown, a Democratic challenger to Senator Lincoln Chafee next year, called on Mr. Bush to set a six-month deadline to bring American troops home from Iraq.

"You owe it to the American people to get this job done and bring our men and women home to their families," Mr. Brown said on Wednesday.

Mr. Chafee's spokesman, Stephen Hourahan, responded by noting that Mr. Chafee had voted against the war, though he said he did not know whether Mr. Chafee would support the type of deadline urged by Mr. Brown.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Casey, the prospective challenger to Mr. Santorum, said he would press the incumbent on why he had not taken a lead in raising questions about the war.

"Most people want to know what is the situation with training the Iraqi forces?" Mr. Casey said. "Where are we? Where are we with getting armor to our troops?"

Mr. Santorum's spokesman, Robert Traynham, said Mr. Santorum would not be hurt by supporting the war.

Mr. Traynham read a statement from Mr. Santorum that said, "Doing what is best for this country is always good politics in terms of protecting us from evil dictators such as Saddam Hussein."

Even apart from these problems, the party of the president in power traditionally loses seats in the midterm election of a second term.

"It's tough," Mr. Murphy, the consultant, said. "The press will try to make Iraq the cause of whatever historical problems we would normally have in an off-year election."

Representative Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican who initially supported the war but has begun calling for a pullout, said, "If your poll numbers are dropping over an issue, and this issue being the war, than obviously there is a message there - no question about it."

"If we are having this conversation a year from now," Mr. Jones added, "the chances are extremely good that this will be unfavorable" for the Republicans.

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PostSat Aug 20, 2005 6:54 pm  Reply with quote  

Now it's political

"The United States will not relent in the war in Iraq and will hunt down insurgents one at a time if necessary."
- Vice President Cheney, addressing combat veterans at the 73rd national convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart held in Springfield, Missouri

WASHINGTON - Has the US public lost so much confidence in the George W Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war that its current strategy - to the extent one actually exists - is unsustainable?

With Bush himself besieged by anti-war protesters on his seemingly endless and ill-timed vacation at his Texas ranch, that appears to be the big question, just two weeks before the resumption of official business back in Washington.

Both Republican lawmakers, who face mid-term elections in 15 months, and the military itself, which, as a result of the Vietnam debacle, has taken as an article of faith that the loss of civilian support must be avoided at all costs, appear increasingly restive and unhappy with the course of events.

"There are more and more voices within the party and military who are beginning to acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is not only not improving, but is actually getting worse," said Jim Cason of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a lobby group that opposed the war.

"The administration is under more and more pressure from within - especially from the Pentagon and influential Republicans on Capitol Hill - and it clearly hasn't figured out what to do about it."

Media coverage of the war has turned particularly gloomy over the past several weeks, and particularly since the August 3 killing of 14 US servicemen in one deadly bombing incident.

The front-page headlines tell the story. "In Iraq, No Clear Finish Line," which ran in the Washington Post, was soon succeeded by "US Lowers Sights on What Can be Achieved in Iraq," which was then eclipsed by a more general analysis Thursday entitled "US Policy on 'Axis of Evil' Suffers Spate of Setbacks".

Among other points, that article noted that the administration's blunders in Iraq had clearly strengthened the strategic position of North Korea and especially Iran, whose influence with the new government in Baghdad has been growing steadily, much to Washington's discomfort.

As for the other "court paper" of the US capital, the New York Times, a searing critique of Bush's policy by columnist Frank Rich entitled "Someone Tell the President the War is Over" appeared virtually everywhere on the Internet almost the instant that it was published last Sunday.

And an analysis Thursday, "Bad Iraq War News Has Some in the GOP [Republican Party] Worried over '06 Vote," argued that even among staunch war hawks in Congress, Iraq was fast becoming a political albatross of Vietnam-like dimensions.

Even arch-hawk Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, admitted that the near-victory of the Democratic candidate and Iraq veteran who denounced Bush as a "chicken hawk" in a solidly Republican district in Ohio earlier this month was a wake-up call for the party.

Public opinion polls have been telling a similar story. A Newsweek poll taken two weeks ago found that confidence in Bush's handling of the war had fallen to an all-time low of 34%, which, as Rich pointed out, was roughly equivalent to the approval rating of former president Lyndon Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War after the 1968 Tet offensive that is widely believed to have marked the "tipping point" in public opposition to Washington's intervention in Indochina.

An earlier Associated Press-Ipsos survey found somewhat more support for Bush's Iraq policy - 38%. But that was also an all-time low for that survey and was also conducted just before the killing of the 14 Marines.

Another poll by USA Today, CNN and Gallup published a few days later found majorities believe that going to war in Iraq was a mistake and had made the US more vulnerable to terrorism, and now favor withdrawing US troops. A third of those questioned said they wanted all troops withdrawn immediately.

Growing tensions within the administration and among its supporters have also contributed to the sense of disarray that has taken hold.

When senior military commanders began floating the idea that Washington could begin withdrawing substantial numbers of its 140,000 troops in Iraq by next spring, Bush himself dismissed it as mere speculation.

That exchange, in addition to further alienating the officer corps from the White House, spurred a spate of new attacks by prominent neo-conservatives against Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, whom they have always blamed for being insufficiently committed to "transforming" Iraq.

"What the president needs to do now is tell the Pentagon to stop talking about [and planning for] withdrawal, and make sure they are planning for victory," wrote William Kristol in The Weekly Standard, adding "... to win, the president needs a defense secretary who is willing to fight and able to win."

Writing in the Washington Post, Frederick Kagan, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), also denounced against any talk of withdrawal as "dangerous and unwarranted", arguing that the "light infantry" and police forces being trained by Washington will "be dependent on significant levels of US military support for years to come".

Yet even Kagan's AEI colleague, economist Kevin Hassett, suggested that Iraq had now become a major political problem for Bush and the Republicans, one that prevented the public from recognizing how well the US economy was performing.

"Why Are Americans Sour About Everything?" he asked in a column this week for Bloomberg. "Iraq," he replied, noting the imminence of next year's election campaign.

To the surprise of many observers, Bush, who has spent three weeks at his ranch desperately avoiding meeting with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who has emerged as an anti-war icon, has done nothing to dispel the growing malaise.

While his media supporters have mounted a predictably nasty campaign to discredit Sheehan, Bush's failure to meet with her because "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life" appears surprisingly callous.

The passivity of his handlers in permitting Sheehan to dominate news coverage from the Texas White House in Crawford has also surprised observers and bolstered the impression that the administration has both lost its political touch and has no answers to the kinds of questions Sheehan and the public at large are raising.

While the administration's predicament clearly favors Democrats, signs that Iraq is fueling potential political problems for them are also on the rise. While prominent Democrats in the House of Representatives, unlike their Republican colleagues, have already lined up in favor of a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, the party's most prominent figures in the Senate, from which the 2008 presidential candidate is likely to emerge, have until now generally remained hawkish on Iraq, lest they be considered "soft" on national security.

On Wednesday, however, Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold, a normally cautious lawmaker who is considering a presidential bid, broke ranks with other likely candidates, including senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden, by calling for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2006 and calling his party colleagues "too timid" in challenging Bush on the issue.

His challenge came as some party members have expressed growing anxiety over the deepening rift between grassroots Democrats who support withdrawal and more hawkish party leaders who have echoed Bush in asserting that US credibility would suffer irreversible harm if Washington failed to pacify the country.

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PostSat Aug 20, 2005 7:10 pm  Reply with quote

(CNN) -- President Bush on Saturday said the United States is fighting "terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world," and a former U.S. senator who fought in the Vietnam War denounced the Iraq war effort, saying "its plan for victory is not working."

Bush delivered his remarks in his weekly radio address and former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia spoke in the weekly Democratic radio response.

Their words reflect the different priorities of Americans concerning the war in Iraq, which the United States launched more than two years ago, versus the conflict in Afghanistan, which began a month after al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

The president, noting that the four-year anniversary of 9/11 is approaching, said "since that day, we have taken the fight to the enemy," saying the country has upended "terror cells and their financial support networks" and have taken insurgents on "in foreign lands before they can attack us here at home."

"Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy.

"They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail," Bush said.

Cleland, who came home from Vietnam a triple amputee, said that the U.S. military must give the troops what they need to win or get out of Iraq.

"I learned in Vietnam that the best way to support our troops is to either give them the forces and equipment needed to win or bring them home so we can care for those who have borne the battle," he said. Critics say the administration has not properly equipped troops and underestimated the number that would be necessary to fight.
Bush itinerary

Next week, Bush said, he will visit troops in Idaho and veterans in Utah and thank them for their service.

The troops include National Guard members as well as the "men and women of the Mountain Home Air Force Base who played a leading role in the air campaign in Afghanistan after the September the 11th attacks."

He said he will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Salt Lake City.

At the end of August, he said, he said, he will be in San Diego "to commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, the day that ended World War II."

He said the tasks that "troops have given their lives for" must be completed.

"Like previous wars we have waged to protect our freedom, the war on terror requires great sacrifice from Americans. By their courage and sacrifices, today's soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines are taking their rightful place among the heroes of history, and the American people are thankful and proud."
Cleland: 'Miscalculations' rampant

"The "administration needs to step up the plate," Cleland said. "It's time to face the truth. It's time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out."

He said the administration miscalculated the number of troops needed to fight, saying "we don't have the forces there to make it secure."

Bush, he said, sloughed off the advice the "top military brass who said that at least 500,000 troops were needed to secure Iraq. The president committed only one-fifth of that force to the war."

Currently, Cleland said, the military, including the National Guard and Reserves, is struggling because of this. Service members are returning for more tours and the casualties are growing, with almost 2,000 service members dead and more than 15,000 wounded, he said.

"The toll on the service men and women in a war where a distinct majority of the casualties are due to explosive devices is especially devastating," Cleland said, who noted that "I've seen the toll that war can take on our troops and on limbs on that battlefield."

In contrast, he made a common argument critics of Bush have raised in questioning the timing of the war. "Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cadre who did attack our country on September 11, 2001 are still on the loose," which was Cleland's one reference to the Afghan conflict.

Another miscalculation Bush made was that he declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 2003, Cleland said.

"This judgment was wrong. Major combat is not over. The cost has been extremely bloody for this nation."

He also criticized the administration's budget for veterans, arguing that "at least $3.5 billion more is needed. We should be expanding V.A. healthcare -- especially counseling for veterans and their families dealing with the emotional aftermath of war."
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sounds like a threat PostSat Aug 20, 2005 10:51 pm  Reply with quote  

"They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail," Bush said. The "evil men" Bush is referring to are his buddies and cronies.Sounds like another threat.
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PostMon Aug 22, 2005 2:03 pm  Reply with quote  

GOP senator says Iraq looking like Vietnam

A leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate said Sunday that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reiterated his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq. Hagel scoffed at the idea that U.S. troops could be in Iraq four years from now at levels above 100,000, a contingency for which the Pentagon is preparing.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

Hagel said "stay the course" is not a policy. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq ... we're not winning," he said.

President Bush was preparing for separate speeches this week to reaffirm his plan to help Iraq train its security forces while its leaders build a democratic government. In his weekly Saturday radio address, Bush said the fighting there protected Americans at home.

Polls show the public growing more skeptical about Bush's handling of the war.

In Iraq, officials continued to craft a new constitution in the face of a Monday night deadline for parliamentary approval. They missed the initial deadline last week.

Other Republican senators appearing on Sunday news shows advocated remaining in Iraq until the mission set by Bush is completed, but they also noted that the public is becoming more and more concerned and needs to be reassured.

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., another possible candidate for president in 2008, disagreed that the U.S. is losing in Iraq. He said a constitution guaranteeing basic freedoms would provide a rallying point for Iraqis.

"I think this is a very crucial time for the future of Iraq," said Allen, also on ABC. "The terrorists don't have anything to win the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq. All they care to do is disrupt."

Hagel, who was among those who advocated sending two to three times as many troops to Iraq when the war began in March 2003, said a stronger military presence by the U.S. is not the solution today.

"We're past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel said. "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have."

Allen said that unlike the communist-guided North Vietnamese who fought the U.S., the insurgents in Iraq have no guiding political philosophy or organization. Still, Hagel argued, the similarities are growing.

"What I think the White House does not yet understand - and some of my colleagues - the dam has broke on this policy," Hagel said. "The longer we stay there, the more similarities (to Vietnam) are going to come together."

The Army's top general, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, said Saturday in an interview with The Associated Press that the Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq - well over 100,000 - for four more years as part of preparations for a worst-case scenario.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said U.S. security is tied to success in Iraq, and he counseled people to be patient.

"The worst-case scenario is not staying four years. The worst-case scenario is leaving a dysfunctional, repressive government behind that becomes part of the problem in the war on terror and not the solution," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday.

Allen said the military would be strained at such levels in four years yet could handle that difficult assignment. Hagel described the Army contingency plan as "complete folly."

"I don't know where he's going to get these troops," Hagel said. "There won't be any National Guard left ... no Army Reserve left ... there is no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years."

Hagel added: "It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence, it would hurt Israel, it would put our allies over there in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a terrible position. It won't be four years. We need to be out."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the U.S. is winning in Iraq but has "a way to go" before it meets its goals there. Meanwhile, more needs to be done to lay out the strategy, Lott said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I do think we, the president, all of us need to do a better job, do more," Lott said, by telling people "why we have made this commitment, what is being done now, what we do expect in the process and, yes, why it's going to take more time."

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