The Senate moved closer to a non-binding resolution opposing the surge strategy last night when two key members of the chamber reached a compromise on the wording in the bill. John Warner and Carl Levin have agreed to reinforce the resolution with a vow that the Senate will not stop funding the troops:
Democratic and Republican opponents of President Bush’s troop-buildup plan joined forces last night behind the nonbinding resolution with the broadest bipartisan backing: a Republican measure from Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced the shift, hoping to unite a large majority of the Senate and thwart efforts by the White House and GOP leaders to derail any congressional resolution of disapproval of Bush’s decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500.
Although the original Democratic language was popular within the party, it had little appeal among Republicans. Warner’s proposal drew support from both sides, and it was retooled last night to maximize both Democratic and Republican votes.
The revised resolution would express the Senate’s opposition to the troop increase but would vow to protect funding for the troops. The resolution does not include the Democratic language saying the Bush plan is against the national interest, but it also drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops.
Pervious versions of the resolution will be withdrawn today, which means that the Hagel-Biden language will no longer be under consideration. The earlier language favored by the Democrats garnered little traction with Republicans dissatisfied with the President’s new strategy. They wanted something that affirmed their support for the overall war on terror but focused criticism narrowly on the additional troops. Harry Reid figured that any resolution that could beat a filibuster was better than a strident one that couldn’t get enough votes to force cloture.
The House plans on drafting its own resolution, and Nancy Pelosi made it clear that she would not settle for compromise. She wants to pass one that demands the retreat of American forces from Iraq, although she has not called for an end to the funding for the deployment. After hearing from Nouri al-Maliki that we could replace 50,000 troops with heavy armament in the hands of the Iraqi Army, she plans to demand that level of withdrawal within six months.
It seems increasingly likely that a significant number of Senate Republicans will wind up supporting the Warner compromise. If they support the war and its aims, why would they vote in favor of this non-binding resolution? It’s a hard question to answer, especially considering the unanimous support given General David Petraeus, one of the architects of the surge.
The answer may lie with the Bush administration’s handling of the issue in the midterm elections. The GOP lost control of both houses in what everyone now concedes was a referendum on the war. The next day, Bush dumped Donald Rumsfeld in favor of Robert Gates, and it came out that Bush had planned the move since the summer but wouldn’t pull the trigger until after the elections.
This infuriated Republicans in Congress, who believe that the decision cost them their majorities, especially in the Senate. The White House maneuvering forced GOP candidates to either defend Rumsfeld or attempt to shrug off questions about his management of the war. Had Bush replaced Rumsfeld in August or even September and made the changes that followed prior to the election, they could have saved one or two seats in the upper chamber, or so some analysts believe.
As a result, it’s easy to speculate that Republicans in both chambers (and those who did not return) might feel a bit betrayed and not inclined to support the administration with as much enthusiasm as before. Their decision to mind their own political fortunes and let the Bush administration twist in the wind would be understandable, but it would still be a mistake. That kind of short-term payback has long-term implications, and while this is speculation, those implications for defeat and an Iraqi collapse are absolutely real.