In Iraq last month, Smith was dispirited by the contrast between meeting with inspiring U.S. troops and meeting with grim members of the Iraqi parliament. When the parliamentarians gave a dusty answer to his question about the length of the summer vacation they might take, he said: I want you to go -- if you will first pass legislation allocating oil revenues. Their response, he says, was to show pictures of people slaughtered in the parliamentarians' neighborhoods. They were, he says, bent ``on revenge, not reconciliation.''
Smith recounted this experience early one morning last week, a few hours before Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the president's designated ``war czar,'' testified to a Senate committee that Iraq's political factions ``have shown so far very little progress'' toward reconciliation and that unless they do so soon, ``we're not likely to see much difference in the security situation'' in the next 12 months. Until, that is, at least the homestretch of the presidential campaign while Republicans are defending 21 Senate seats.
Since Smith's ``end of my rope'' speech six months ago, the senator has been voting with the Democrats on such Iraq matters as time lines and benchmarks, stopping short only of voting for Sen. Russ Feingold's proposal to cut off funds for the war next March. Among Republicans, he is virtually a caucus of one. Unless you count Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, who counts less and less because he is decreasingly active among Senate Republicans.
Smith's loneliness may be assuaged in September, when Petraeus reports on the effects of the troop surge. ``There is,'' Smith says, ``a high expectation that we'' -- Republican senators -- ``will be able to vote for something different in September.'' And: ``I can,'' he says, ``think of a dozen Republican senators who will be with me in September.''