Monday, July 9, 2007

The contrast could hardly be more stark: While American troops are risking their lives (and achieving success on the battlefield) in places like Baghdad and Baqubah, Harry Reid and the senatorial circus return to Washington today to begin another week in which they will signal retreat and weakness again and again. The fastest way to get airtime on ABC, NBC, CBS or CNN or fawning coverage in The Washington Post, the New York Times editorial pages or the Associated Press is if you adopt a defeatist posture on the war in Iraq — especially if you take the Jim Baker/Lee Hamilton view that Washington’s purported refusal to talk with Iran and Syria is the reason that they undermine American interests whenever they can. By contrast, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s yeoman work in highlighting Iran’s destructive role — and the fact that Al Gore’s former running mate has come to the conclusion that raids against terrorist bases on Iranian territory may be necessary to achieve victory in Iraq — is virtually ignored.

Until now, Republicans have stayed relatively united, at least when it came to congressional floor votes on Iraq — a reality that has made it impossible for Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to muster enough votes to override a presidential veto of funding cutoffs, withdrawal dates and other moves that undercut troops in the field and tell the Islamists that they only have to wait us out. But now that Republican senators such as Richard Lugar (Indiana), Pete Domenici (New Mexico) and George Voinovich (Ohio) have read the polls and made statements poor-mouthing the latest campaign to uproot jihadists in Iraq, they have earned themselves the sort of “Strange New Respect” once reserved for Republicans who agreed to deals that increased taxes in exchange for budget cuts that never materialized.

It’s important to be at least somewhat grounded in reality about what is significant about the defeatist posture taken by Mr. Lugar et. al. — and what is business as usual for a certain type of Republican. Anyone who remembers Mr. Voinovich’s emotional attack against John Bolton (Mr. Voinovich later reversed himself) or his ramblings in response to radio talk-show host Sean Hannity’s factual questions about his support (subsequently reversed) for the failed Senate immigration bill understands that he’s hardly a thinking man’s conservative in the mold of the late Sen. Robert Taft. Mr. Lugar has rarely missed a chance during the past year to state his misgivings about President Bush’s approach toward Iran. Mr. Domenici, a former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has long been known as one of the congressional Republicans most likely to embrace the tax-increase “compromises” noted above. On the immigration bill, Mr. Domenici was initially a vocal supporter and voted for cloture on June 26. But after hearing what the public thought about the legislation, he voted to kill it two days later.

In short, no one remotely familiar with their records would consider any of them to be among the Senate’s conservative intellectual giants. On the contrary, they are poll-driven politicians who want to hold on to power, and the polls indicate that many Americans are decidedly unhappy about the direction of the war. Mr. Domenici said Thursday that while he favored moving U.S. troops “out of combat operations and on the path to coming home,” he didn’t support an immediate withdrawal of troops or a reduction of funding.

This “compromise” didn’t sit well with Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in part of Iraq. “These surge forces are giving us the capability we now have to take the fight to the enemy. And the enemy only responds to force and we now have that force,” Gen. Lynch said on Friday. “We can deny the enemy the sanctuaries. If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away, and the Iraqi forces aren’t ready yet to do that. So now what you’re going to find, if you did that, is you’d find the enemy regaining ground, re-establishing the sanctuary, building more IEDs, carrying those IEDs in Baghdad and the violence would escalate. It’d be a mess.”

The most pernicious thing about all the talk of bringing U.S. troops home is the fact that it would reverse the successes that American troops are achieving. For months, this newspaper has reported the story of how Sunnis in Anbar province in western Iraq are taking up arms against al Qaeda. The same thing now appears to be occurring in Baqubah, located in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, in which American troops launched an offensive June 19 to dislodge al Qaeda forces. “The big news on the streets today is that the people of Baqubah are generally ecstatic, although many hold in reserve a serious concern that we will abandon them again,” blogger Michael Yon, who is embedded with U.S. troops in Baqubah, reported Friday. Similarly, Michael Gordon of the New York Times also reported Friday on the remarkable successes that U.S. troops in Diyala are having. It should also be noted that Iran — now a leading supporter of both Sunni and Shi’ite jihadists fighting U.S. forces in Iraq — has shown itself to be vulnerable to economic pressure — witness the riots over gasoline rationing that have swept the country.

So what do senators want to do? To throw the mullahs a diplomatic lifeline. Mr. Domenici, along with Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, and Republican Sens. Robert Bennett of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who both should know better, is supporting S. 1545, a bill to make the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (including talks with Tehran and Damascus) the official policy of the U.S. government. When you combine this foolishness with the parade of amendments calling for troop “redeployments” and setting timetables for withdrawal from Iraq by April 1, 2008, it’s clear that Mr. Reid and his “bipartisan” coalition of helpers are poised to send another unmistakable message of weakness to the jihadists starting today.

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