Much sooner than anyone had anticipated, the Congressional democrats forced upon their Republican counterparts a decisive action over the future of the Iraq war. Perhaps sensing the almost complete lack of energy in the GOP caucus in Senate and House, or perhaps because they feared that the president was simply not going to misread the losses of November as a repudiation of purposefulness in the war, Democrats got out their long knives and went after the president’s promise to send reinforcements and fresh leadership to Iraq.
Slow Joe Biden lept into action and, taking a break from commenting on Barak Obama’s unique status in American history, forced a cut-and-run non-binding resolution through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Republican Chuck Hagel the only republican with him. Eager to demonstrate that the GOP could be easily divided on the question of victory in Iraq, John Warner threw together his own attention-getting demand for round heels in Republicans sizes. No dance of the resolutions is complete without a McCain-Graham edition, so that was forthcoming as well. Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been expected to be a stalwart for victory, found himself issuing declarations of “last chances” and “six months,” which certainly do let the enemy know how long they have to plan their victory parade. “Next year in the Green Zone,” is now the rallying cry of the jihadists. The Senate, after all, has all but said so.
(The message to the Republican senators from 31,000+ regulars couldn’t have been more clear. Like the Washington Post’s William Arkin message to the troops, the GOP senators have a message for their base: “Sit down and shut up. Who asked you, anyway?”)
The picture in the House GOP caucus was just as dreary. Benchmark fever –otherwise known as “surrender flu”—raged there as well as the week draws to a close. Interviews with House GOP Leader Boehner and House GOP Deputy Whip Cantor confirmed the widespread indifference among Congressional elites to the victory wing of the party.
Where does this leave the war? Resting on the resolve of George Bush and the competence of the American military, so this extremely difficult and vitally important struggle remains winnable, at least for the next two years. If General Petraeus and our Iraqi allies succeed, the very Republicans and not a few Democrats undercutting the troops, the mission, and the president this week and next will be back proclaiming that it was their “oversight” that turned the corner. At that point, their appeals for support will be falling on ears as deaf to them as they have been to the folks sending e-mails and making calls.
Where does it leave the Republican Party?
For the first time since Ronald Reagan began the party’s comeback after Watergate, the party’s Congressional leadership is surrendering the party’s principles on national security and national defense. Slowly over the years they gave up on spending restraint and cultural issues. The Gang of 14 undercut their resolve on judges. The size of government long ago got tossed overboard.
But the party has never faltered on national security and national defense. Not since Reagan declared “We win. They lose.” Not since he deployed the Pershing Iis and the cruise missiles in Europe. Not since the Wall came down. Not since 9/11.
Now, because of the loss of six Senate seats --some of them for reasons wholly unrelated to the war—and control of the House in the sixth year election clouded by predatory and crooked backbenchers, the Congressional GOP is turning over its claim to seriousness on national security and national defense.
This should have been the beginning of a long and necessary debate over the stakes in Iraq and the reality of the enemy we confront. But there is no one in Republican leadership willing to make that case or even try. Almost everything is contingent, tied to weasel words, poll-tested.
There remains some time for Republicans on the back benches to demand more of their leaders –to demand a fight over principle. But it doesn’t look promising. It doesn’t look promising at all. If the collapse that appears imminent occurs, it will be the task of people serious about national security to identify those who at least tried to make the case –Senators Cornyn, DeMint, Kyl, and Vitters come to mind-- and support them, refuse to cover for the Republicans who ran for exits, and work only for those in or out of Congress who want to reclaim the national security legacy of Ronald Reagan.