Examining the results in the 2006 midterm elections, Peter Canellos of the Boston Globe observed that it all added up to one thing: A no-confidence vote on President Bush's Iraq policies. -- But he also acknowledged that The Democratic victory does not mark the end of the war in Iraq, or even the beginning of its end. -- Gerard Baker of the Times of London called the election a veritable earthquake that will have far-reaching implications for U.S. policy and politics. -- In the hours after polls closed, Democrats seemed set to control both houses of Congress. -- They will have a margin of more than 20 seats in the House, while [i]f the [present] results stand, Democrats will take the Senate, 51-49. -- Gerard Baker concluded: The scale of last nights win shouldnt be underestimated. Though numerically it is not as large as the Republican revolution 12 years ago, when the Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate, but in many ways it was just as impressive and significant. -- Thanks to gerrymandering, redrawing the boundaries of districts to favor incumbent members, far fewer seats in the House are genuinely competitive today than was the case 12 years ago. -- In the Senate the party had to take virtually all the seats that were considered at all competitive. They knocked off more than a dozen incumbent members of the House of Representatives and as many as six in the Senate. ...
DEMOCRATIC GAINS ARE A NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE ON IRAQ
By Peter S. Canellos
November 8, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The Democratic message took many forms in many places, from calls for troop withdrawals, to demands for a tougher stance with the Iraqi government, to insistence on the replacement of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
But yesterday, it all added up to one thing: A no-confidence vote on President Bush's Iraq policies.
The Democratic victory does not mark the end of the war in Iraq, or even the beginning of its end.
But it almost certainly marks the end of President Bush's ability to prosecute the war for any reason other than preserving America's position in the world, and for any goal other than hastening its conclusion.
Bush has long argued that this war stands for many big ideas -- ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, building democracy in the Middle East, and defeating terrorists on their own turf.
There proved to be no weapons of mass destruction. There was no collaboration between Saddam Hussein's government and Al Qaeda. And there have always been doubters about America's ability to plant democracy on a country riven by sectarian divisions.
And yet Bush always believed that average Americans would see the war as he did: As a show of American resolve.
By the start of the 2006 election cycle, there were clear indications that people were losing confidence in Bush's leadership.
Many Republican strategists sought to focus the election on local concerns, asking voters to back their familiar and often respected senators and congressmen, while raising doubts about unknown Democratic challengers.
But at the start of the fall campaign, Bush made the decision to put himself at the forefront of the campaign, apparently believing he could make the case that Iraq was now the central front in the war on terrorism -- and that the lessons of September 11, 2001 were guiding his policies.
"The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq, so America will not leave until victory is achieved," Bush declared on September 2, in an unusually forceful radio address.
The address set the tone for the Republican campaign to come, but it also revealed some weaknesses that came back to haunt the GOP: Bush trumpeted a new initiative to secure Baghdad, stating that "the initial results are encouraging."
But the initiative ultimately failed to take hold.
Bush also declared that "only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence."
And yet, in the weeks to come, numerous observers described a country perilously close to civil war.
Now, the people have given Bush their verdict on his policies. Democrats offered no single path of their own, so yesterday's votes should be seen only as a mandate for change -- for some sort of a new way forward.
Michael Gerson, the former White House aide who wrote some of Bush's most memorable speeches defining the war on terror, said that Bush should not abandon the war in Iraq -- but he must redefine the war in a way that satisfies a public desire for change.
"I think that there's going to have to be a significant relaunch of the Iraq effort to win public support for the last two years of the presidency, to pursue the strategies that the president feels are necessary to pursue," Gerson said during a meeting on Monday with a small group of journalists.
Former Secretary of State James Baker's Iraq Study Group has been exploring ways to redeploy troops and shorten the war: The panel, co-chaired by former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana, is due to present the president with a new set of strategies by the end of the year.
It's an opportunity for a new course, and one that Gerson thinks the president should take.
"I do think the administration is genuinely open to the Baker commission," he said. "I think they're looking to that as a way to not fundamentally change, but to redefine their approach in a way that will build bipartisan support."
PARADIGM SHIFT RESULT THAT CHANGES CAPITOL HILL
By Gerard Baker
November 8, 2006
For the first time in a decade the U.S. Republican Party wakes up this morning nursing the bitter taste of defeat after a dramatic night of Democratic triumph that redrew the map of American politics.
The unpopularity of President Bush, anger at the faltering war in Iraq, and disgust at the proliferating scandals that have engulfed the Republican Party in the last two years combined to produce a veritable earthquake that will have far-reaching implications for U.S. policy and politics.
Except for a brief period in 2001-2002, Mr. Bush has governed America for the last six years with a co-operative, and some would say pliant, Republican-controlled Congress. It has endorsed with barely a question the bulk of his policies -- from the Iraq war and tough domestic anti-terror legislation to sweeping tax cuts.
But now he faces the final two years of his term with a Congress that is at least half-controlled by the Democrats, who will surely make life much more difficult for him, forcing him perhaps to rethink his Iraq and broader anti-terror strategy.
Even Republicans were acknowledging last night that American voters had sent a clear signal that they want a change in direction.
The Iraq war dominated the campaign in much of the country and exit polls left no doubt that voters want to see changes.
Mr. Bush will have to come up with a new, urgent strategy that produces results in Iraq, or the chances must be great that the Republican prospects will only get worse. Pressure for a change in personnel, most notably the removal of Donald Rumsfeld as defence secretary, is also likely to grow.
For the first time since they were thrashed by the Republicans in 1994, Democrats secured a majority in the House of Representatives -- a clear working majority at that. They gained at least 25 seats from the Republicans -- possibly more by the time all the votes in close races are in -- easily enough for a comfortable majority of 20 seats or more in the 435-seat House.
In the Senate, Democrats were edging slowly towards an even more dramatic victory. They needed to gain six Republican seats for a majority -- a task most pundits had thought was beyond them.
But they notched up gains in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Missouri, looked likely to win in Montana with the bulk of votes counted, and were a nose in front in Virginia pending a probable recount. If the results stand, Democrats will take the Senate, 51-49.
Not since Bill Clinton won re-election as president in 1996 has the Democratic Party really had something to celebrate in a national election. Mr. Bush defeated them twice -- in 2000 and 2004, and their efforts to recapture Congress since 1994 have fallen far short.
The scale of last nights win shouldnt be underestimated. Though numerically it is not as large as the Republican "revolution" 12 years ago, when the Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate, but in many ways it was just as impressive and significant.
Thanks to gerrymandering, redrawing the boundaries of districts to favour incumbent members, far fewer seats in the House are genuinely competitive today than was the case 12 years ago.
In the Senate the party had to take virtually all the seats that were considered at all competitive. They knocked off more than a dozen incumbent members of the House of Representatives and as many as six in the Senate.