The reason seems clear: They believe that come September, Mr. Bush will wise up and institute the kind of significant course change they have refused to force on him, thus turning the volume own on Iraq just in time for the ’08 election season.
Mr. Warner seemed to say as much when he and Mr. Lugar introduced their own proposal, non-binding legislation that would ask the President to draw up plans for a narrower U.S. mission by mid-October. Unlike the legislation that was killed today, the Warner-Lugar plan provides no provisions to force the President to take the recommended action. “The President,” Mr. Warner stressed, “will have to make some changes, and I’m confident the President will do so.”
For his part, Mr. Lugar has flatly ruled out backing any legislation – now or later – that would set a timeline for withdrawing troops or redefining the U.S. mission and, in fact, has said that – despite his own reservations – Mr. Bush is free to pursue whatever course he wants in Iraq, with as many troops as he wants, as long as he is President.
In essence, the Republican bet is that Mr. Bush, on the subject of Iraq, is a reasonable man and a team player. There’s no need to humiliate him with a legislative rebuke now – not when he’s al but promised to revisit his policy in September then. And surely, Republicans seem to be thinking, he’ll have to come around in September. Right?
But is there really any reason for such optimism? After all, Mr. Bush’s bullheadedness – abetted by Congressional rubberstamping – stirred a Democratic tidal wave last November. And yet, the President’s response was to escalate the war, a move that dropped his own poll numbers even lower and that destroyed the presidential campaign of the top Congressional war supporter, Mr. McCain.
And when he was thrown a potential life preserver in the form of the toothless Warner-Lugar plan, Mr. Bush instead dispatched his National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, to blow off the idea on national television. Mr. Bush fancies himself the next Harry Truman, a President whose wisdom is only appreciated by the masses decades after he leaves office. So what does he really care about 2008?
But there are 201 Republicans in the House and 49 in the Senate who care very much about 2008. For many, their jobs are on the line. And all of them miss being in the majority dearly. A second consecutive wipeout could lock the G.O.P. out of power for a decade. Mr. Bush has given every indication that he plans to keep a heavy troop presence in Iraq through his entire second term, a state of affairs that could doom his party next year – unless his party decides to save itself.
At one point in the Senate’s marathon debate, Chuck Schumer urged his Republican colleagues to support the course change legislation, arguing that only legislation that forces Mr. Bush’s hand will produce a meaningful change in Iraq.
All but four of them ignored him today, but in two months Republicans will have to make a choice: Would they rather beat the Democrats in legislative maneuvering in 2007, or have a chance in 2008?