The House and Senate return from their July 4 recess, and the first thing on the agenda is Iraq. While the news carries stories of Republican Senators further hedging on Iraq, WEEKLY STANDARD editor Bill Kristol argues that signs of progress warrant more patience:
Obviously, we have a long way to go in Iraq. There are obstacles, in part posed by recalcitrant and incompetent elements in the Iraqi government. But the successes of the U.S. combat operations are undeniable...
Sen. Domenici seems to have been genuinely moved by a conversation with a father who had lost a son fighting in Iraq. And Domenici commented, "We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress." The sacrifices are real. But the troops are also fighting, and winning. The young soldiers believe in their mission. Perhaps they could be given a chance to succeed. Perhaps our elected officials should stop thinking of our soldiers as victims, but rather do them the courtesy of understanding them as fighters in a just and necessary cause.
And in a piece on today's DAILY STANDARD, Kristol cautions the president against seeking compromise with opponents of the war:
The best strategy for the president is to hold firm. There is every reason to believe that he can survive the current calamity-Janes of the Republican party (does anyone really imagine that a veto-proof majority will form in the Senate this week or next?). This nonsense will pass, Congress will go on recess, and Petraeus will have a chance to continue to produce results--and the president and his allies will have a chance to gain political ground here at home. Why on earth pull the plug now? Why give in to an insane, irrational panic that will destroy the Bush administration and most likely sweep the Republican party to ruin? The president still has a chance to emerge from this as a visionary who could see what the left could not--but not if he gives in to them. There is no safety in the position some in the Bush administration are running towards.
The irony is that this political retreat is taking place even as General David Petraeus's military offensive is showing signs of progress. "These Anbar [province] sheikhs who are cooperating with the United States have made an enormous difference in what was the most dangerous province in Iraq," said New York Times reporter John Burns in a recent interview on PBS's "NewsHour." "I was out there today at the capital, Ramadi. . . . and it's gone from being the most dangerous place in Iraq . . . to being one of the least dangerous places."
Mr. Burns was talking about the trend among Sunni tribal chieftains to ally themselves with the U.S. and the Shiite government of Iraq against what they see as their gravest enemy: al Qaeda interlopers bent on making themselves the leaders of the Sunni community in Iraq. Al Qaeda has taken note of this shift by trying to murder the sheikhs, only increasing the rift between them.
That's a battle al Qaeda is likely to lose, provided U.S. forces are available in sufficient numbers to help Iraqi forces defeat them. It's also a battle that could bring moderate Sunnis on the same side as the predominantly Shiite government -- just the sort of "reconciliation" our foreign policy mandarins have demanded of Iraqi leaders as the price of continued U.S. support.
Or as retired General Jack Keane told the New York Sun: "The tragedy of these efforts is we are on the cusp of potentially being successful in the next year in a way that we have failed in the three-plus preceding years, but because of this political pressure it looks like we intend to pull out the rug from underneath that potential success."
Meanwhile, Bob Novak warns that the White House has underestimated the degree of dissatisfaction in the Senate:
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley visited Capitol Hill just before Congress adjourned for the Fourth of July. Meetings with a half-dozen senior Republican senators were clearly intended to extinguish fires set by Sen. Richard Lugar's unexpected break from President Bush's Iraq policy. They failed.
Hadley called his expedition a "scouting trip," leading one senator to ask what he was seeking. It was not advice on how to escape from Iraq. Instead, Hadley appeared interested in how previous supporters of Bush's course had drifted away. In the process, though, he planted seeds of concern. Some senators were left with the impression that the White House still does not recognize the scope of the Iraq dilemma. Worse yet, they see the president running out the clock until April, when a depleted U.S. military can be blamed for the fiasco.
CQ offers a summary of the amendments likely to be considered by the Senate in the latest Iraq debate:
* The Webb amendment on home rest (covered here last week);
* A Clinton-Byrd amendment to repeal the Iraq AUMF effective October 11, and force Bush to redefine the mission;
* An amendment by Senator Warner -- perhaps a non-binding one to call for a new use-of-force resolution in September;
* A proposal by Carl Levin to begin drawing troops down in October, with a flexible goal for complete withdrawal in 180 days;
* The Reid-Feingold proposal to set a date-certain for withdrawal, probably March 31, 2008;
* A Salazar-Alexander amendment to make the ISG recommendations 'official policy,' and seat a March, 2008 'goal' for drawdown of troops.
With the clear understanding that the president will veto any measure that undermines the conduct of the war, this exercise again amounts to an effort to weaken the resolve of Senate Republicans.