Republicans Stick by Bush When it Counts

Craig Crawford points out that, for all the news made by Republican politicians distancing themselves from President Bush on the war, 97 percent still voted with him when push came to shove.

A funny thing happened on the way to the much-heralded break with the White House by Republican senators and House members uneasy with George W. Bush’s war strategy: They voted.

This month’s roll calls on Capitol Hill simply did not reflect all the tough talk about dissatisfaction from GOP lawmakers. When it came time to say “yea” or “nay” on the latest round of proposals for drawing down troop levels in Iraq, only eight of the Capitol’s 250 Republicans (that’s 3 percent of them) sided with the Democrats — despite plenty of body language suggesting that a mass GOP defection was in the offing.

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What happened to the heralded meltdown of Bush’s Republican backing? For starters, it seems that many in the GOP are trying to have it both ways, appealing to anti-war sentiment in their home states with critical words for the president’s war management while sticking with him when their votes are counted. Two high-profile Senate Republicans, John W. Warner of Virginia and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, even went so far as to craft a proposal that embodied the two-timing GOP stance. Their measure, which quickly lost steam last week as Democrats backed away from it, gave the appearance of getting tough on Bush by calling upon him to make plans for reducing troop levels, but it would not have compelled him to implement any such plan.

For many wavering Republicans, the political calendar plays a major role in where they ultimately land on the question of voting to force Bush’s hand. In short, the longer they wait before the 2008 campaign, the better they will know what to do.

There’s no doubt much of it is politics, just as it is for some Democrats who voted to authorize the war and later backed away. Some of it, too, is good old fashioned arm twisting and appeals to party loyalty.

Still, I think a substantial part of the dichotomy reveals legitimate uncertainty as to the right course of action. A lot of policymakers are in Anne Applebaum territory, simultaneously thinking we’re probably going to lose this thing (if we haven’t already) and yet reluctant to change course for a variety of strategic and moral reasons. The recent tactical change, including the Surge and the change in leadership from SECDEF down to the new commanding general, combined with the coming September “deadline” give both a tiny sliver of renewed hope and a near-term window to justify pulling out.

My guess is that, absent some miracle taking place in the two months between now and the final “milestone” report, Bush will lose enough Senators to be unable to sustain a filibuster. Whether he’ll keep enough to run a war by veto, we’ll see.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.