Robert Novak

I checked with prominent Republicans around the country and found them confused and disturbed about the surge. They incorrectly assumed that the presence of Republican stalwart James Baker as co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group meant it was Bush-inspired (when it really was a bipartisan creation of Congress). Why, they ask, is the president casting aside the commission's recommendations and calling for more troops?

Even in Mississippi, the reddest of red states where Bush's approval rating has just inched above 50 percent, Republicans see no public support for more troops. What is happening inside the president's party is reflected by defection from support for his war policy after November's election by two Republican senators who face an uphill race for re-election in 2008: Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Coleman announced his opposition to more troops after returning from a trip to Iraq preceding McCain's.

Among Democrats, Lieberman stands alone. Sen. Joseph Biden, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, leads the rest of the Democrats not only to oppose a surge but to block it. Bush enters a new world of a Democratic majority where the big microphone he talks about is smaller because he must share the stage.

Just as the president is ready to address the nation on Iraq, Biden next week begins three weeks of hearings on the war. On the committee, Biden, Christopher Dodd, John Kerry, Russell Feingold and Barack Obama will compete for intensity in criticizing a troop surge. But on the Republican side of the committee, no less probing scrutiny of Bush's proposals will come from Chuck Hagel.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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