In an analysis published two weeks before the 2006 midterm elections, AP senior analyst Tom Raum reported Monday evening that "Republicans worried about losing Congress are challenging President Bush on Iraq, eroding his base of support for the unpopular war just two weeks before midterm elections."  --  For example, in a debate last week Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) claimed George W. Bush has a plan to win the war but for now was keeping it quiet.  --  "That remark drew ridicule from Democrats, who likened it to Richard Nixon's 'secret plan' to end the war in Vietnam," Raum noted.  --  "More and more, the [Iraq war] issue is dominating election campaigns and altering the political landscape."   --  "Bush has stopped saying he is staying the course because that suggested he was locked into a losing policy.  Now Bush asserts that he is constantly switching tactics."  --  Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution, suggested that the president might release the report of the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton before the Nov. 7 election.  --  "Who knows?  I wouldn't rule it out," said O'Hanlon.  --  This is exactly what was recommended Tuesday in an editorial in the Khaleej Times, the English daily published in the Persian Gulf region (in Dubai).[2]  --  Meanwhile, an AP analysis of Democrats' plans (should they take control of Congress) indicated that withdrawal from Iraq is not something that the Democratic Party is contemplating.  Rather, Democrats would hold hearings, then advocate lowering the number of troops and "switch[ing] the United States from a major role in Iraq to a supporting one."[3] ...



By Tom Raum

Associated Press
October 23, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Republicans worried about losing Congress are challenging President Bush on Iraq, eroding his base of support for the unpopular war just two weeks before midterm elections.

Increasing calls from restive Republicans for new ideas to extricate the U.S. come as the White House itself seems to struggle for a better course, or at least a better way to describe the current course.

Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, seemed to open the floodgates to GOP criticism this month when he warned after a trip to Iraq that the war was "drifting sideways" and a course correction might soon be warranted.

In recent days:

-- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she would not have supported the invasion had she known there were no weapons of mass destruction, and she has proposed splitting Iraq into three parts.

-- Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen, in a difficult re-election battle with Democratic challenger James Webb, dropped his stay-the-course mantra to assert, "We cannot continue doing the same things and expect different results. We have to adapt our operations, adapt our tactics."

-- Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said in a debate last week with Democratic challenger Jon Tester that he agreed with Warner's call for a change in strategy -- and believed Bush already had a plan to win the war but for now was keeping it quiet. That remark drew ridicule from Democrats who likened it to Richard Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam.

Also challenging Bush's Iraq policy have been former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and several House Republicans.

More and more, the issue is dominating election campaigns and altering the political landscape. That, and the historic pattern of midterm losses for the party holding the White House, has cast a heavy gloom over rank-and-file Republicans, particularly those on the ballot.

The GOP doubts, coupled with widespread Democratic opposition to Bush's strategy, put intense pressure on the White House to do something differently, and momentum for that will build if Republicans lose the House or Senate. Bush has stopped saying he is staying the course because that suggested he was locked into a losing policy. Now Bush asserts that he is constantly switching tactics.

Sen. James A. Baker III, a former secretary of state who has a long history of loyalty to the Bush family, has said the Iraq Study Group -- which he leads with former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana -- will wait until after the Nov. 7 elections to present its recommendations.

But he has suggested the panel will present Bush with options somewhere between the extremes of "stay the course" and "cut and run."

Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution who is part of the Baker-Hamilton study group, deemed it unlikely that Baker would lend his support to a phased withdrawal such as some Democrats have advocated. "Baker's not a political novice," O'Hanlon said.

Still, he said, the Iraq government could be told that "you've got to make some big changes" and that U.S. military backing was not forever. Might Bush announce a change in strategy before the election? "Who knows? I wouldn't rule it out," said O'Hanlon.

Bush could portray it to the world "as being not about the election but about the failed Baghdad security plan, and give his party a little boost before the midterms," O'Hanlon said.

Mindful of the political ramifications, the White House sought on Monday to tamp down the growing GOP criticism by portraying the president as engaged -- and flexible.

He met over the weekend with his generals, and on Monday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

White House officials said U.S. and Iraqi leaders had established "milestones" and "benchmarks" to gauge security, economic, and political improvements -- but that the U.S. had not issued ultimatums nor withdrawal targets.

"What we aren't doing is sitting there with our heads in the ground," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett as he made the rounds of five morning television news shows. He said that the administration was "making tactical changes on a week-by-week basis as we respond to the enemy's reactions to our strategies."

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that two Republicans -- whom he declined to name -- had told him they would demand a new policy on Iraq after the election. He said the GOP lawmakers were told not to make waves before then because it could cost the party seats.

Biden predicted many GOP defections on Iraq if Democrats win control of one or more chambers of Congress. Polls suggest there is a likelihood Democrats could take at least the House.

As to Bush's oft-repeated statement that U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi ones stand up, Biden said, "The reason we cannot stand down is that they aren't standing together. They're killing each other."

"I don't see a big surprise with respect to Iraq that turns it around, and that's the only thing that would help the Republicans," said James Thurber, an American University political scientist. "I think it just keeps getting worse and worse, and that is not good news for the president and the incumbent party in the House and the Senate."



Khaleej Times
October 24, 2006

Original source: Khaleej Times

Prominent Senate Democrats are right in urging the White House not to wait till after the U.S. congressional elections to give the Iraqi government a timetable to assume a larger role in securing the country. The Bush administration is understandably apprehensive that a strategy shift now might further upset the dipping public opinion.

But it bears noting that the month preceding the elections has already been one of the worst since the war began. Till Sunday, the U.S. forces’ October casualty count had reached 83 with on-ground commanders admitting that the two-month plan to contain the insurgency had failed to achieve its aim. Bush’s approval ratings are below 40 per cent and with the violence constantly rising, it is difficult to see the Republicans maintaining their majority in Congress. It seems they are unable to decide whether announcing policy change now -- which would amount to a marked departure from the stay-the-course stance adopted so far -- would bolster the Democrats’ case in the public eye.

The word in Washington is that the administration might use the James Baker group’s findings to prompt an exit strategy, which is why it has set for the report to be issued after the November 7 elections. Seen in light of ground realities, there are two compelling arguments for making those findings, and subsequent strategy, public before the elections. First, the war has already thoroughly devastated Iraq.

To delay measures aimed at restoring some sort of order for the sake of securing Congress majority should only serve to further alienate the already discontented public from the powers that be. Second, it does not reflect too well on the world’s most powerful democracy, which went to war to supposedly spread the democratic values it cherishes, to keep its own people in the dark ahead of the crucial vote. Especially since the election result will have profound implications on American and therefore international politics.

Since the three years of occupation have only seen the security situation deteriorate in Iraq, it is important to seriously reassess things. It is more than apparent that the occupying forces are not able to handle the insurgency. Some are arguing that the dreaded civil war has already begun, something not easy to deny when presented with daily bombing and casualty statistics. It seems the only path to an ultimate solution is for the U.S. to signal a phased withdrawal. That would augur well for the Iraqi government, too. With the American departure imminent, the Iraqis would know that it would be up to them to sort out their differences, with minimized external influence. It’s time for the Bush administration to take the bull by the horns, and for once give politically correct rhetoric a back sheet to plain facts, and accept what ground realities imply.



International Herald Tribune
October 24, 2006

Democrats promise quick passage of a minimum wage increase at home and a smaller U.S. war role in Iraq should they win control of Congress in two weeks and end a 12-year exile from power.

Made-for-televison hearings would focus on faulty intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, strategic and tactical missteps once there, and sending of troops into combat with insufficient armor, Democrats say.

From the chair helm of the House of Representatives' Armed Services committee, they would press for an almost immediate troop reduction. They also would try to switch the United States from a major role in Iraq to a supporting one: counterterror and logistical tasks rather than patrols of Baghdad's streets.

All that assumes the Democrats win back the Congress, a matter to be decided by voters in the Nov. 7 elections. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the House, where all 435 seats are in play; they need six in the Senate, where 33 of the 100 seats are up for a vote.

As in other policy matters, a question also rises whether the Democrats could agree among themselves on how to force President George W. Bush's hand. For example, they remain divided on how many troops should be brought home right away. Many dismiss any suggestion they would try to cut funding to end the war as Congress did in the Vietnam era.

As for investigations the Democrats might start, targets could include the administration's handling of agency finances and Bush's practice of issuing statements attempting to limit his obligations in following some details of laws he has signed.

"We haven't had any oversight hearings in six years, except for cheerleading sessions," said Congressman Pete Stark, who is in line to chair the House health subcommittee should Democrats become a majority.

Over the years, majority Republicans have developed an all-purpose reply to Democrats' gripes: When they gain control, they can run Congress as they please.

Capturing the House, the Senate or both also would allow Democrats to turn Congress into a pulpit from which to make the case for more seats and even the presidency in the 2008 elections.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has promised to pass within the first 100 hours of a new Congress an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, from the current hourly minimum pay of $5.15. The last increase was voted by Congress in 1996.

Democrats also would dare Bush to cast a second veto against one of the most popular bills passed by Congress during his term, a measure that would have allowed federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research.

Supported by former first lady Nancy Reagan, a Republican icon as Ronald Reagan's widow, the bill passed both the House and Senate and led Bush this year to cast the lone veto of his administration. The president says public money should not be spent on a process that social conservatives compare to abortion.

Polls show that more than three fourths of Americans disagree. Democrats say a new debate and a new veto would remind voters closer to the 2008 election that the legislation and a new president who supports it would put federal funding behind the search for cures for diseases.

Other major policy matters facing would-be Democratic congressional committee chairmen include influencing Bush's signature domestic law, No Child Left Behind, a policy on education that is set for its first update next year.

Though they helped pass it with bipartisan support early in Bush's first term, Democrats have fumed that the education law has been mismanaged. They also accuse the president of reneging on a promise to provide full sufficient money to pay for it.

Nearly every prospective Democratic committee chairman interviewed by the Associated Press in recent days pledged to step up Congress' supervisory role over the management and conduct of executive branch agencies.

Under the U.S. system of checks and balances, Congress has authority to monitor the activities of the president's executive branch. The third branch of government, the judiciary, ensures the other two branches act within the constraints of the U.S. Constitution.

Democratic-led judiciary committees would launch oversight hearings on the Justice Department's conduct of the fight against terror, looking at everything from secret searches and wiretaps to how the FBI treats whistle-blowers. Would-be Senate Chairman Patrick Leahy says he also would hold hearings on abuse of terror detainees and on war profiteering.

As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Joseph Lieberman would push for stronger oversight on a raft of matters, including contracts awarded to private companies for Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war.

Democrats' environmental agenda would include investigation of what the party consider inadequate regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency of polluters, pesticides, and chemical exposures and of how the Interior Department has handled oil and mineral leases.

--Associated Press writers Andrew Bridges, Martin Crutsinger, John Dunbar, Anne Plummer Flaherty, Kevin Freking, John Heilprin, Lara Jakes Jordan, Leslie Miller, Libby Quaid, Katherine Shrader and Hope Yen contributed to this report.