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November 17, 2005
Bush Takes The High Road With Senate GOP Caucus

George Bush has decided to look at the Warner Amendment in much the way I first analyzed the situation, hailing the overall process that eliminated any call for a timetable to withdraw from Iraq. Speaking from Kyoto on his tour of Asia, Bush expressed his satisfaction with the defeat of the competing Democratic amendment that demanded a withdrawal schedule and told the press that the Warner approach sounded reasonable:

President Bush said yesterday that it was "a positive step" for the Senate to defeat a Democrat-led effort to establish a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

"The Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, rejected an amendment that would have taken our troops out of Iraq before the mission was complete," Mr. Bush said during a press conference in Kyoto with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. "To me, that was a positive step by the United States Senate."

Mr. Bush rejected a reporter's suggestion that he was embarrassed by the Senate's subsequent approval of a watered-down measure that requires the White House to give lawmakers regular progress reports on Iraq.

"That's to be expected," the president said of the measure, an amendment to the Senate version of a defense spending bill. "They expect us to keep them abreast of a plan that is going to work."

He added that he viewed the measure as "consistent with our strategy, and look forward to continue to work with the Congress."

Even Democratic strategists viewed the Democratic push for date-specific timetables as a huge strategic error. Bill Sammons quotes Michael O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institute describing it as a "major mistake ... Democrats would run too high a risk of conceding defeat ..." Congress could certainly ask the Pentagon to explain their overall formulation for success and replacement of American troops on the front lines with battle-ready Iraqis. The Democrats, O'Hanlon says (and I agree), overplayed their hand and continue to do so by demanding what amounts to a surrender date -- making themselves the Party of Appeasement when they could have set themselves up as something a bit more responsible.

Bush's statement gives the Senate some political cover from the conservative rage that swept across the New Media the last two days, a phenomenon with which he has recent and painful experience himself. Bush and his team should realize that they have all the tools necessary to rebuild support for the rebuilding of Iraq and the defeat of al-Qaeda terrorists there. Just as their counteroffensive against the Democrat's transparent smear campaign of "Bush lied!" has worked because of the personal engagement of Bush and VP Dick Cheney, who delivered a rhetorical masterpiece suggesting that Democrats might be suffering from a type of political Alzheimer's Syndrome, the administration needs to have a personally engaged, consistent, and profound public-relations effort to explain and defend the war. They have allowed the Democrats far too much room and time to define the war on their own terms, and the public -- lacking any real effort from the White House to define it correctly -- have absorbed it. The GOP in the Senate want the White House more engaged in the process, not because they don't know the status of the engagement, but because the American public doesn't know it. Hundreds of paper reports by Donald Rumsfeld won't fix that.

Bush made a smart move in taking the high road, signaling to the GOP that he understands the problem. The GOP should return the favor by dropping the Warner Amendment in conference. I look forward to the new offensive by the Bush administration in the theater of American public relations -- where this war will truly be won or lost. If Bush and his staff finally understand that, the foolishness of the Warner Amendment will have had some value in the end.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 17, 2005 5:26 AM

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