Robert Novak

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a popular and effective Republican who had nothing to do with Iraq policy, believes his defeat was wholly caused by the war. The defeats, down to the local level, in a variety of states -- such as Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon and Missouri -- are blamed by Republicans there on Iraq.

One nationally prominent Republican pollster reported confidentially on Capitol Hill after the president's speech that if U.S. boots are still on the ground in Iraq and U.S. blood is still being spilled there at the end of the year, the GOP disaster in 2008 will eclipse 2006. Thus, many Republican congressmembers have tied their hopes to Bush's pledge that Iraqi forces will take over local security by September.

But Republican opposition has intensified rather than diminished since the president's speech. What was whispered privately is now declared publicly. At last week's hearing, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's second-ranking Republican -- Sen. Chuck Hagel -- called Bush's new strategy "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

The conservative elite of the House of Representatives, members who had 100 percent positive voting records as measured by the American Conservative Union (ACU), gathered Wednesday morning for an ACU breakfast on Capitol Hill. They still talked about "winning" in Iraq and deplored the consequences of "surrendering."

But they do not know how that victory can be achieved if the Iraqi government is tied to the Shiite militia, a political dilemma in Iraq that no increase in U.S. troops can solve. Republicans can only hope that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her sidekick, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, overplay their hands by cutting off funds to U.S. troops in the field. It is a slim hope for now.

Robert Novak

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

©Creators Syndicate