How The War Will End

Last week in a WSJ Opinion piece, Kimberley Strassel nicely outlined how the U.S. involvement in Iraq is likely to end. It's all in the hands of a few key GOP senators.

The recent flurry of action-inaction by certain GOP senators is instead about laying the groundwork for September. They're putting President Bush on notice, with a goal of mau-mauing him into changing course. Come September, they hope Gen. David Petraeus will deliver a cautiously optimistic report to Congress, making the case the situation has improved. Mr. Bush could then propose his own pre-emptive troop drawdown. Not the immediate pullout demanded by Democrats, of course, but a slower withdrawal, over the next 18 months.

In this way, they can take credit for moving Mr. Bush into winding down the war. They'd not only please war critics, but provide themselves cover with the base, since they'd simply be backing Mr. Bush's own plan.

Don't underestimate the number of senators pushing for this outcome. At least a dozen or so who are up for re-election next year, who have so far publicly held tight in their support for Mr. Bush's surge, are in the back room demanding the White House throw them a political bone in September.

What happens then? For now, the White House can claim mini-victory. Its near-term goal was always to squeak through the summer without binding legislation, giving the surge time to show gains. It has now accomplished that goal: Mr. Reid has appeased his antiwar left with his all-night Iraq pajama party, and is calling it quits on further Iraq-related amendments. House Minority Leader John Boehner meanwhile manfully convinced his own caucus to sit tight in July, losing only four members to recent withdrawal legislation.

Nervous Republicans are nonetheless forcing Mr. Bush into a corner this September. MORE

Ms. Strassel goes on to say that she doesn't especially like this scenario, but it sure sounds plausible to me. As a domestic political matter, what's been missing in the whole debate is a face-saving way out for all sides - Bush, Democrats, and the congressional GOP - to announce victory and please their respective supporters. The scenario described in this article is probably as close to a grand compromise as we are likely to get.

Now if, in September, Bush fights to continue an open-ended commitment in Iraq, I think the little support he has left in his own party will desert him. The GOP senators have drawn a line in the sand. After September, there will be a veto-proof anti-war majority in the Senate, and quite possibly in the House as well. Things could get very ugly in Washington this fall. At the very least, September will be an interesting month.


Donald Douglas said...

Veto proof majority after September? They're not really near that now. A couple of Republicans - Olympia Snowe, Chuck Hagel - have jumped ship, but that's about it. I see the Democrats using scare tactics, trying to bring parliamentary pressure on members, hoping constituents will give them a hard time. As more progress comes through on the ground, less likely Democratic obstructionism will work.

Patrick said...

We'll see. Unless Petraeus has a major breakthrough of some kind, I can easily imagine 10-15 more GOP senators going over the edge this fall. Lugar and Warner are definitely close.