View Full Version : Challenges to Bush's Iraq Policy Gain Dramatic Momentum

11-02-2005, 10:07 PM
Challenges to Bush's Iraq Policy Gain Dramatic Momentum


WASHINGTON -- For months, the politics of the Iraq war have been frozen in place, with stalwart Republicans defending President Bush's policy and most Democrats shunning a direct challenge.

Now, the ice has begun to crack.

In the face of solidifying public opposition to the war, a
mounting U.S. body count and a renewed focus on the faulty intelligence used to justify the war, Democratic lawmakers and candidates have sharpened their critique of the administration's policy and, in some cases, urged a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"The mood has really shifted," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who in August became the chamber's first member to call for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. "We are in a whole different period."

Meanwhile, some Republicans who were strong backers of Bush's policy increasingly are distancing themselves from his optimism that the U.S. mission will be successful — even after the recent approval of a new Iraqi constitution.

"I hope that is a turning point," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said of the constitution's passage. "But there is increasing skepticism. We've had a lot of events that appeared to be turning points, but the violence continues."

The changing political dynamic was dramatized this week when Democrats launched an unusually bold challenge on war policy: They essentially shut down the Senate to force release of a languishing report on whether the administration distorted or mishandled intelligence in making the case for invading Iraq. Chastened Republicans quickly agreed to investigate the status of the report.

Even before the Senate showdown, challenges to administration policy were multiplying in recent weeks: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for the first time called for new ways to accelerate troop withdrawals. Several Democratic congressional candidates began to urge Bush to set a timeline for ending U.S. involvement in the war. And more Republicans in competitive races — including a senior Senate leader — pointedly questioned the administration's rosy assessment of the war's prospects.

The new focus on Iraq — especially in the wake of the U.S. casualty count passing 2,000 last week and in connection with the indictment of a top White House aide involved in discrediting a prominent Iraq war critic — underscores the issue's likely prominence in next year's election.

When other hot issues fade, "the first thing that pops back up is concern about Iraq," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster. "Iraq is fundamental to the political debate in 2006. People are going to focus on and want to know, 'Where are we going and what's the plan?' "

The debate over the war next fall could look very different from the arguments today. In both parties, many believe the administration next year could reshape the political landscape by beginning to withdraw troops. And many Republicans believe that, as Democrats present a more concrete alternative to Bush's policies, they will drive more Americans to rally behind the president.

Democrats remain deeply divided on what alternative to offer — and even whether they should offer one. Yet persistent public discontent with the war has clearly strengthened those Democrats urging more confrontation.

Most Americans now say in polls that they consider the decision to invade a mistake. In a mid-October Pew Research Center survey, a narrow majority said the United States should set a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

Among rank and file Democrats, disillusionment with the war has become overwhelming.

After months of nearly complete disconnect, more Democratic elected officials and candidates are echoing those sentiments.

In a speech last week, Kerry rejected a fixed date for withdrawal but argued that the United States should link troop reductions to "specific, responsible benchmarks" of progress in Iraq — the first time the former presidential candidate had proposed a plan to end U.S. involvement.

Similarly, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the traditionally hawkish ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote Bush last week that the United States should withdraw one combat brigade each time three Iraqi brigades are fully trained.

More Democratic challengers are moving in this direction, too. Bryan Lentz and Patrick Murphy, two Iraq war veterans challenging Republicans in competitive Pennsylvania House races, are both promoting benchmark-linked timelines for withdrawing U.S. troops.

"As long as we are doing the job, the Iraqis are going to say, 'The Americans are here,'" said Murphy, who served in Iraq for eight months as an Army captain. "You need to give them the incentive to do it."

In Ohio, Paul Hackett, another Iraq war veteran, generally opposed a timetable for withdrawal during his high profile, but unsuccessful, campaign for a House seat during a special election last summer. But now Hackett has embraced the idea as he faces off in a Democratic Senate primary against Rep. Sherrod Brown, who has endorsed legislation that would require Bush to draft a withdrawal plan by year's end.

(ThotPolice: Think that will happen?)