A Terrible Ignominy
How many Republicans will desert the troops?
Feb 12, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 21 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Perhaps the shade of the great Yeats will forgive me:
John Warner of Virginia, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine are the four Republican senators (in addition to Nebraska's Chuck Hagel) currently signed on to the Democrats' anti-surge, anti-Petraeus, anti-troops, and anti-victory resolution. (I give Hagel a pass--perhaps undeserved--in my roster of ignominy, since he has been a harsh critic of the war for quite some time.) Three of the four are up for reelection in 2008--Warner, Collins, and Smith. Collins and Smith will be running in states Bush lost in 2004. Warner will be standing in a state where an antiwar Democrat won in 2006.
Now, politicians are entitled to be concerned about their political survival. They're even entitled to make foolish and shortsighted political judgments--for example, that voting for this resolution in February 2007 will help their electoral prospects if the Bush administration's foreign policy is in shambles in November 2008. Indeed, they're entitled to ignore the fact that voting for this resolution somewhat increases the chances of a shambolic outcome to Bush's foreign policy, and therefore may not be in their own interest.
But of course these senators won't acknowledge they're influenced by the electoral cycle. Consider John Warner. Is he worried about 2008? No. It's memories of Vietnam that suddenly haunt him. As the Washington Post reported on its front page recently:
In fact, John Warner was Richard Nixon's undersecretary of the Navy from 1969 to 1972, then Navy secretary until 1974. No admiral (or Army general) showed up in either his undersecretarial or secretarial office in those years to urge more troops for Vietnam--because we were then drawing down as part of Vietnamization. So Warner would seem to be making up these conversations with foolishly optimistic Army generals--unless they visited him before 1969 in his office at the law firm of Hogan and Hartson, where he was ensconced during the period of the Vietnam buildup.
I presume Smith, Collins, and Snowe aren't rewriting history to justify their votes to disapprove of Bush's new effort in Iraq. Still, we have yet to hear a coherent explanation of their position: They are (understandably) unhappy with how Bush has prosecuted the war over the last couple of years, under the guidance of Rumsfeld, Abizaid, and Casey. So they now are supporting a resolution that precisely embodies the Rumsfeld-Abizaid-Casey approach: no new strategy, no more troops, and continuing pressure to turn things over to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. These senators dislike the status quo in Iraq--and are supporting a resolution that condemns Bush's attempt to change the status quo.
Some seven GOP senators are said to be wavering between the Democratic resolution and the McCain Graham-Lieberman alternative supporting Gen. Petraeus and the troops. They are Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John Sununu of New Hampshire, and George Voinovich of Ohio. Alexander, Coleman, and Sununu are up for reelection in 2008. Some or all of the seven may still choose to stand with the president and the troops, and to give Petraeus a chance. This would leave the Democratic resolution short of the 60 votes needed to end debate. Perhaps the four ignominious ones could even reconsider and sign on with McCain, Graham, and Lieberman (whose resolution of support includes, incidentally, "benchmarks" of performance that the Iraqi government is expected to meet).
In any case, Republican senators up for reelection in 2008 might remember this: The American political system has primaries as well as general elections. In 1978 and 1980, as Reagan conservatives took over the party from détente-establishment types, Reaganite challengers ousted incumbent GOP senators in New Jersey and New York. Surely there are victory-oriented Republicans who might step forward today in Nebraska, Virginia, Oregon, and Maine--and, if necessary, in Tennessee, Minnesota, and New Hampshire--to seek to vindicate the honor, and brighten the future, of the party of Reagan.