The commercials which sponsored Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate featured a legless vet, who lost his limbs in Iraq, and a grieving mom, whose son was killed in the war. Both told viewers that the United States is succeeding in Iraq and will win the war if given time.
That point of view faces a come-to-Jesus moment in Congress in the coming weeks. A top military general is slated to give a progress report next week. The Senate will debate the national defense authorization in the days after that.
The House of Representatives is already on record as supporting a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq, however generic.
So the idea that millions of dollars worth of TV ads can convince Americans that an open-ended commitment will bring victory in Iraq is an incredible stretch.
The things-will-be-fine-if-we’re-just-given-time ads were paid for by a group called Freedom Watch. They parrot the White House position.
The problem for the president is that the assertions made in both the ads and the White House spin continue to fly in the face of too many independent measures of progress and public opinion.
“The only relevant information we have now is the GAO (General Accounting Office) that reports most of the milestones have not been met,” Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar said. “There is significant failure. The Iraqi government has not been able to disarm militias. There has been no reconciliation. The independent information is that all is not well in Iraq. The question we face (in the Senate) is whether we can marshal a bi-partisan coalition to change direction.”
If they can’t, they’re not listening to the vast majority of their constituents.
“I was the leading whip on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion,” said Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette. “I was the lead whip on an energy bill. We did a lot of things in Congress.
“All I heard during the August recess was ‘We need to bring the troops home.’”
DeGette serves a safely Democratic district. She was among 70 House members who signed a recent letter to Bush promising to cut off funding for the war unless there is a time-table to withdraw all troops before the end of the president’s term.
DeGette has never supported the Iraq War. But she is not a member of what is known in the House as the “Out of Iraq Caucus.” What’s interesting about the funding cut-off letter, she said, is that it was signed by 18 representatives who are not.
The broader level of disenchantment with Iraq can be measured across party lines. Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a military expert and former Secretary of the Navy, now wants a troop withdrawal to start in December.
Warner’s imprimatur is big, Salazar and DeGette agreed.
“We’ll see amendments offered in that regard” to the defense spending bill, Salazar said.
What he couldn’t say was whether supporters of such a measure could muster the votes to cut off debate and vote on withdrawal. They couldn’t earlier this summer.
If the war hawks of the Senate, many of whom are chicken hawks because they lack military service, want to filibuster, perhaps it is time to let them.
The mood of their constituents has not grown more supportive of an open-ended commitment of troops and money to Iraq.
“I talked last night to a Vietnam veteran who is a conservative Republican,” DeGette said. “He asked me, ‘When are we going to bring the troops home?’”
That seems to be the refrain of a nation, no matter what television ads and the White House try to tell you.