Let me begin wherethis column will end, at TheNRSCPledge.com.
Republicans disagree among themselves on scores of issues. It is genuinely a big tent party, and rarely if ever does the “base” demand party discipline. In recent years the only sitting GOP senator to find himself rejected by large number of activists and donors was Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, who not only voted against the invasion of Iraq and the confirmation of Samuel Alito, but declined even to vote for the re-election of President Bush. Many loyal party members not only opposed Chafee’s re-election, they refused to support the National Republican Senatorial Committee because the NRSC was helping to fund the Chafee campaign.
The NRSC had a disastrous cycle, losing six United States senate seats, as a dispirited GOP base simply did not contribute as much or work as hard as it had in the successful cycles of 2004 and 2002. Lincoln Chafee was one drag. The Gang of 14 another. The refusal to use the majority that had required so much effort resulted in the loss of that majority.
Now, less than a month into the new Congress, the Senate Republicans face another crucial moment, one that will reverberate long into 2008. Senator Joseph Biden has offered a cut-and-run resolution on Iraq, a resolution that only Chuck Hagel voted for in committee and which will not receive a vote because the Democrats lack 60 votes to bring it to a vote.
Eager to assure that the Senate somehow undermined the war effort, however, Virginia’s John Warner once again stepped forward with a second, slightly milder resolution blasting the president’s war strategy in its most crucial aspects. Some GOP senators indicated they were favorably disposed to the Warner resolution, including Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Gordon Smith of Oregon.
On Wednesday, general David Petraeus, widely regarded as the best man for the job of winning the war in Iraq, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In response to a direct question from Senator Lieberman, General Petraeus testified under oath that any resolution denouncing the strategy in Iraq would encourage the enemy. I heard it, and have played the tape repeatedly on my program. I confirmed in an interview with Tony Snow yesterday (transcript here) that this is indeed how he understood General Petraeus as well. There can be no doubt about what the question was and how he answered.
What does it mean to “encourage the enemy?” It means to increase their will to fight on, and their courage to do so even in the face of the arrival of reinforcements. It also means to increase –substantially—the likelihood of redoubled and retripled efforts on their part to kill American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. To vote for the sort of resolution that General Petraeus addressed is a profoundly wrong action.
General Petraeus was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday --which has to mean that the senators who voted for him have confidence in his military judgment.
Many Democrats are willing to encourage the enemy if it means hurting George W. Bush. They are willing to disregard the advice of the general they have just sent to do a mission if it serves their political purposes.
Chuck Hagel is thus far the only Republican to indicate that he is willing to issue the same encouragement to the enemy.
Senator Warner’s resolution has the same effect as Senator Biden’s. General Petraeus testified as to any resolution blasting the new strategy. Biden’s resolution blasts all of the strategy. Warner’s blasts the most important parts.
There is no meaningful difference in my eyes –or the eyes of General Petraeus, the MSM, or the eyes of the enemy—between the two resolutions.
Because the troops and the war trump any partisan calculation, I have helped organize a campaign to alert Republican senators that a vote for the Warner resolution, or any other similar resolution, is a deal breaker for me. I will not contribute to any senator who so votes, and I will not work for any senator who so votes.
Further, I will withhold all funds from the NRSC if the NRSC supports in the ’07-’08 cycle any Republican senator who voted for the Warner amendment.
I am not alone in this conviction, even though it may mean splitting with some friends, senators I have eagerly helped elect in the past with my time and treasure, and whom I know to be very good senators on almost all issues. At the web site TheNRSCPledge.com more than 4,000 people signed the pledge of non-support for individual senators and the NRSC in the first six hours of its operation. Hundreds of bloggers have joined on as well. I expect the numbers to grow, and the memory of the votes of next week to remain strong for years to come.
There are two parties in the country –the victory party, and everybody else.
The GOP Senate leadership has to decide very quickly that it will not indulge Senator Warner and anyone else who is still in agreement with Senator Warner after the Petraeus testimony. The good news is that General Petraeus’ testimony has had a bracing effect on many senators. They know that he spoke truth and he did so with zero interest in the political debates swirling in the Congress. Senators who might have been inclined to join Senator Warner in some gesture of concern have been informed that gestures can kill. Gestures can lose wars. And gestures most certainly will cause unbridgeable breeches with one-time core supporters.
I also spoke with two senators yesterday --Jon Kyl of Arizona and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. (The Kyl transcript is here; the Coleman transcript here.)
Senator Kyl assured the audience that no resolution will come to a vote that encourages the enemy, and that means Senator Warner’s resolution is dead.
Senator Coleman assured the audience that he is open to argument on the matter, and that he in no way wishes to harm the war effort. He is rethinking his support of the Warner resolution.
There is reason to believe that the senate GOP can bring itself to flatly declare that they are the representatives of the victory party, that they know the stakes, and that they believe General Petraeus.
And, yes, that they believe the president as well.
Rejecting Senator Warner’s misguided attempt to split differences where no such possibility exists may embarrass the Virginia senator, but an embarrassed senator is much to be preferred over an encouraged enemy and a demoralized military.
Please take the pledge and engage in the activism suggested at the pledge site. Encourage the Senate GOP to commit to victory and to do so in debate and deed.
And back your encouragement with plain speech about the consequences of getting this one wrong.
Visit TheNRSCPledge.com, sign up, contact the key senators, and then ask your friends and family to do the same.
If you support the troops, you will do what you can to discourage the enemy, and that means discouraging these resolutions.