Monday, April 30, 2007

GOP Pols Getting Nervous About Iraq

Even Bush's loyal Republican allies look to be preparing to jump ship on the Iraq war if tangible results from the "surge" are not seen by sometime this Fall.

By September, the troop buildup will have been underway for more than six months. Unless there is dramatic improvement in Iraq, public support for the war will probably have eroded further. And by September, skittish Republicans will be four months closer to starting their reelection campaigns.

Petraeus, who calls himself "a qualified optimist" on the war, has warned that his report may not satisfy anyone who wants a purely bullish assessment.

"People always want to get a sense of thumbs up or thumbs down," he said in an interview last week. "What I'd like to provide is a nuanced paragraph. And what we'll end up with is something in between."

But nuances may no longer be enough to keep Republicans from breaking ranks. GOP leaders warn that they will need dramatic evidence of progress — something that has been in short supply in Iraq — to maintain support for the war.

"We need to get some better results from Iraq both politically, economically and militarily, and that needs to happen in the foreseeable future," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a Bush administration loyalist.

Several moderate Republicans have warned that they are preparing to switch sides unless the troop "surge" shows results.

"If the president's new strategy does not demonstrate significant results by August, then Congress should consider all options — including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who last week voted against the withdrawal bill.

Democrats acknowledge that they are a long way from amassing the two-thirds majority needed in the House and Senate to override a presidential veto on any future war legislation. But they note that if a significant number of Republicans join them in supporting a withdrawal of combat troops, the pressure on Bush will increase.

"The deadline to start [a withdrawal] is going to be driven by the facts on the ground and public opinion, rather than legislation," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading member of the House's Out of Iraq caucus. "By August or September … they will be overwhelmed by the facts."

Dramatic improvements in Iraq are unlikely in the next few months, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the independent Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"All September can do is provide a preliminary assessment of the surge in Baghdad," he said. "There's a tendency in Washington to try to get everything done by 2008. But a lot of this [military effort] has to go on to 2010 or 2013 if you're going to succeed. Only failure is quick."

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