Friday, September 21, 2007

The Magical Month of September

As we may have noticed, John Warner couldn't even bring himself to vote for the Webb amendment. Still, where would we be with David Broder's powers of prescient prognostication? How would those of us outside the Village have any idea what was going on? Broder, last May:

These senators are centrists -- the kind who can exert leverage on their colleagues. But the man who can do the most to catalyze the shift among Republicans is Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the widely respected former chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Colleagues say that Warner is torn between his loyalty to the president and his deep anxiety about events in Iraq. And as a former Navy secretary, he has an acute awareness of the price America's fighting men and women are paying for the policy mistakes there.

If Warner shifts, many other Republican senators will move with him, and the policy will change. I think that time is coming soon.

Or the insight of Frank Rich:

As General Odom says, the endgame will start "when a senior senator from the president's party says no," much as William Fulbright did to L.B.J. during Vietnam. That's why in Washington this fall, eyes will turn once again to John Warner, the senior Republican with the clout to give political cover to other members of his party who want to leave Iraq before they're forced to evacuate Congress. In September, it will be nearly a year since Mr. Warner said that Iraq was "drifting sideways" and that action would have to be taken "if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function."

Mr. Warner has also signaled his regret that he was not more outspoken during Vietnam. "We kept surging in those years," he told The Washington Post in January, as the Iraq surge began. "It didn't work." Surely he must recognize that his moment for speaking out about this war is overdue. Without him, the Democrats don't have the votes to force the president's hand. With him, it's a slam dunk. The best way to honor the sixth anniversary of 9/11 will be to at last disarm a president who continues to squander countless lives in the names of those voiceless American dead.

Or Joe Klein:

John Warner will be the key to what happens next. He's on the record as saying he thinks it's not a good idea for American troops to be stuck in the middle of a civil war in Baghdad. And yet he's voted with Bush most every step on the way. And he's up for reelection in 2008...but he may not be running. My guess is--and perhaps I'm being optimistic--Warner's deadline is September.

Or David Ignatius:

President Bush said publicly last Thursday what his top aides have been discussing privately for weeks. He talked about a transition to "a different configuration" in Iraq after the surge of U.S. troops is completed this summer. When pressed on whether he was talking about a post-surge Plan B, Bush answered: "Actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker-Hamilton, so that would be a Plan B-H."

Let's make sure we've got that right: This would be the same Baker-Hamilton plan whose authors were lampooned by the conservative New York Post in December as "surrender monkeys"? The same Baker-Hamilton report that seemed to be all but buried by Bush's January embrace of a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq?

Yes, that same Baker-Hamilton plan now seems to be official White House policy. Administration officials insist that the president supported it all along, though you could have fooled me. Now it's back -- six months later than it should have been, with six extra months of political poison to corrode its bipartisan spirit. But better late than never.


What drove the White House discussion of post-surge strategy was a sense that the political timeline in Washington was out of sync with the military one in Baghdad. The U.S. clock needed to be slowed down, while the one in Iraq needed to be speeded up. The best way to synchronize clocks, officials concluded, was a less ambitious but more sustainable policy -- one that emphasized the training of the Iraqi army, U.S. Special Forces missions against al-Qaeda, a diplomatic opening to Iran and a reduction in U.S. troops. The shorthand name for this policy was Baker-Hamilton.