Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting Republicans to Jump Ship

After a humiliating retreat on Iraq funding and with abysmal approval ratings, Congressional Democrats go back to work for a war of attrition with the White House this summer.

Whatever else they do, Democrats should press Sen. Byrd’s effort to overturn the 2002 resolution that sanctioned the invasion of Iraq--for more reasons than one.

Strategically, if they are successful, the struggle will migrate to the Supreme Court for a decision on Congessional war powers vis-à-vis the Executive Branch. Tactically, it will poise them to take control of both branches next year.

How can they enlist enough Republican votes for the two-thirds majority to do that?

Framing the question is crucial: Knowing what we now do about what it may take to stabilize Iraq, how long it could go on and at what cost to other vital national needs, including homeland security, do you choose to renew authorization for the war?

The goal is not to rehash past arguments but set priorities for the future. Republicans should be put in the position, not of supporting or deserting the Bush Administration, but deciding how best to allocate American manpower and money from now on.

This approach would include timetables for safe, orderly withdrawal of troops with realistic safeguards for the Iraqis, including a UN or multinational Middle East force to take over peace-keeping.

What would induce enough Republicans to make such a bill veto-proof? The short answer is growing fear of losing their seats next year. Facing 70 percent of voters who want to end the war is hard enough, but having to explain why they now choose to keep it going at the cost of everything else the country needs could tip the balance for incumbents.

Time is on the Democrats' side. In the House, their majority should find enough members across the aisle whose self-interest will overcome loyalty to a lame-duck, unpopular President.

The Senate is more difficult but doable. Republicans have 25 seats in play, a number of them possible converts. Chuck Hagel is already on board, while John Warner and Norm Coleman have one foot on the gangplank. John Sununu, Gordon Smith, Elizabeth Dole, Susan Collins and others are vulnerable and open to persuasion.

Inside-baseball aside, for opponents of the war, this may soon be the only game in town and they should prepare to play it with all the skill and strength they can muster.

The Fat Lady could be ready to sing sooner than they know.

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