Republican lawmakers must have gotten an earful from constituents over the Memorial Day holiday, because there has been a genuine sea change in the politics of the Iraq war since then. -- On Wednesday, as John Conyers and other House Judiciary Committee Democrats held their highly significant hearings into the Downing Street Memorandum, the Wall Street Journal reported that "some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror." -- And the president can no longer count on unquestioned support from Republicans for his "as long as it takes" Iraq policy, Christopher Cooper reported: "In a similar fashion, rumblings are starting within President Bush's camp about the uncertain prospects for drawing down troop levels in Iraq." ...
REPUBLICAN STRAINS EMERGE OVER IRAQ
By Christopher Cooper
** Some Senators Question War And Guantanamo Policies, But Bush Is Unlikely to Change Plans **
Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2005
WASHINGTON -- As bad news continues to emerge from Iraq and the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror.
The strains were on display yesterday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Guantanamo Bay to address what Chairman Arlen Specter called the "crazy quilt" system that governs the treatment of about 520 suspected enemy combatants being held there. Mr. Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called on Congress to set out rules.
More pointedly, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, warned that if the administration and Congress and the courts can't come up with an effective policy for Guantanamo Bay, "we're going to lose this war if we don't watch it."
In a similar fashion, rumblings are starting within President Bush's camp about the uncertain prospects for drawing down troop levels in Iraq. Over the weekend, Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina called for the U.S. to set a date to withdraw troops from Iraq. Last week, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican and former Bush cabinet member who strongly supported the Iraq war effort early on, said he was "discouraged" by the lack of progress and the inability of the Pentagon to draw down U.S. forces.
Sen. Martinez also was critical of Guantanamo Bay, saying it had "become an icon for bad stories" and was hurting the overall war effort. He was joined in his criticism of Iraq by Republican Sen. Charles Hagel of Nebraska, who criticized the administration for failing to foresee the problems in Iraq.
While the complaints remain low-key and aren't enough to produce significant changes, they signal a lessening of the broad and deep support Mr. Bush has had among Republicans for his approach to both the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq. Even minor Republican defections may embolden Democrats, whose criticism of the administration's war strategy has at times been muted, in large part because of the public support Mr. Bush's efforts have received.
Members of Congress appear unsettled by the difficulties on the ground in Iraq and the international criticism of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but also are likely reading polls showing doubts among voters. A Gallup poll taken this month shows that six in 10 Americans want the U.S. to withdraw some or all of the 140,000 troops currently stationed in Iraq. A survey this month by the Pew Research Center found that 46% of U.S. adults supported an immediate withdrawal of all troops, up from 36% last October.
On the question of Guantanamo Bay, which has been dogged by accusations that detainees are being mistreated, the Pew survey found that 34% of Americans thought there was a pattern of abuse there. Opinions split sharply along party lines, however, with only 14% of Republicans believing in a pattern of abuse, compared with 45% of Democrats. Vice President Dick Cheney alluded to such a split this week when he told reporters that the administration had no plans to close Guantanamo Bay. "Those who are most urgently advocating that we shut down Guantanamo probably don't agree with our policies anyway," Mr. Cheney said.
Judging from yesterday's Senate hearing, the political problem may be running deeper. Sen. Specter challenged the Judiciary Committee to think of ways to exercise control over Guantanamo Bay procedures, which the Pentagon repeatedly has revamped. Prisoners are being detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay under rules different from those afforded Americans in the criminal-justice system. Mr. Specter expressed regret that he hadn't been able to muster support for such a move sooner.
Pentagon and administration officials called to testify before the panel said allegations that detainees are systematically abused there are without merit. Though detainees fall outside U.S. law, they said, all captives receive a form of due process that includes a formal hearing to determine whether they are enemy combatants.
Although senators and especially Democrats seemed skeptical that the Pentagon's policy was enough to prevent abuses, some Republicans defended the system at Guantanamo Bay. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said he had visited the site, which he said "would make a magnificent resort."
"This country is not systematically abusing prisoners," Mr. Sessions said.
The hearing adjourned without any specific action being taken, and Mr. Specter acknowledged wading into Guantanamo "may be . . . too hot to handle for Congress."
A flurry of new allegations about abuse at Guantanamo Bay has put the Bush administration on the defensive about operations there, and the president declined recently to rule out closing the camp. Mr. Cheney, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have said Guantanamo Bay is unlikely to close anytime soon. Although other senior administration officials have held out hope that an alternative to Guantanamo Bay will be found, White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday threw cold water on such prospects, when he said Mr. Rumsfeld was "talking for the administration" when he noted that construction projects are under way in Guantanamo Bay to make the facility more or less permanent. "There are no plans, as we have said, for closing or shutting down Guantanamo Bay at this time," Mr. McClellan said.
Mr. Rumsfeld has been similarly pessimistic about prospects for an early withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying the job there isn't done. More than two years into the war, the U.S. is at the top end of its commitment in Iraq, with essentially the same number of troops it used during the invasion of the country. Yet with violence on the upswing and an insurgency more organized and persistent than commanders envisioned, some officers on the ground have complained in recent weeks about being short-handed in the provinces outside Baghdad where the insurgency is strongest.
Following elections in January, violence briefly dipped in Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander there, suggested troop levels might fall in the near future. Events now make that less likely. The Pentagon hopes Iraqi troops eventually may take over security responsibilities, but training them is moving more slowly than the administration predicted. Also, a short-term political solution appears unlikely as work on an Iraqi constitution has stalled. That will likely force the current Iraqi government to push back elections, scheduled for late fall, into 2006.
Administration officials say that despite the setbacks, Mr. Bush is unlikely to change his strategy on Iraq. Perhaps inevitably, this has invited parallels to public and political pressures during the Vietnam War. In the Pew poll, about 35% of Americans said they saw similarities between Iraq and the Vietnam conflict, which badly split the Democratic Party in the 1960s.
Richard Kohn, a University of North Carolina professor who studies presidential-leadership issues in wartime, says that while Mr. Bush won re-election in large part because of his image as commander in chief, "war was always a potential trap for him." He adds: "You've got Republican grandees in the Senate who probably aren't willing to put up with this much longer."
--Greg Jaffe contributed to this article.