Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Iraq impasse

As a daylong battle raged in Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods, President Bush invited Democrats to discuss war funding -- even while he was being pressured by a consortium of Republican legislators to reach a compromise.

For Bush, invitations to negotiate have historically been invitations to capitulate. And this time appears to be no different:

"We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill — a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal, and without handcuffing our generals on the ground," Bush said in a speech to an American Legion audience in nearby Fairfax, Va.

On the one hand, Bush extended an offer to meet with lawmakers Tuesday. On the other, the White House bluntly said it would not be a negotiating session.

What exactly is there to discuss, if the precondition is meeting all of the president's demands?

It bears an eery similarity to his diplomatic approach to Syria, Iran and North Korea, where he also demanded that the other side essentially surrender before talks could begin. That produced exactly zero results in those cases -- progress with North Korea was achieved only after the administration relented -- and isn't likely to go over big with Congress, so one is led to conclude that it is an approach carved into Bush's DNA, not one based on real-world experiences.

Indeed, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid quickly rejected the terms.

"What the president invited us to do was come to his office so that we could accept without any discussion the bill that he wants," Pelosi said at a news conference in San Francisco. "That's not worthy of the concerns of the American people, and I join with Senator Reid in rejecting an invitation of that kind."

The Republican delegation, meanwhile, throws an interesting wrench into the works by suggesting that Bush's Congressional support is not as strong as he thinks.

The group includes five Republicans, diverse in geography and ideology: Reps. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, Charles Boustany of Louisiana, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Mac Thornberry of Texas and Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland. Of the five, only Gilchrest broke with his party to support a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Now, Gilchrest says the group will encourage the White House to compromise on negotiations with Syria and Iran and on setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq. And the group has national security bona fides that will help it be taken seriously....

The GOP negotiating team's argument will start with Gen. David Petraeus' public assertion that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily but requires a comprehensive political solution. Part of that includes letting Iraq know the American commitment isn't open-ended, Gilchrest said.

It's unclear how much support the five GOPers have from the rest of their caucus. Other than Gilchrest -- who, if you believe the National Journal rankings, is the fifth most liberal Republican in the House -- the group is moderately to solidly conservative, though they're notably more moderate on foreign policy.

Consider this simple analysis: Thornberry is ranked as more conservative on foreign policy than 73 percent of the House. If the group crafts a compromise that is acceptable to him, it could conceivably be acceptable to those of the same rank or lower -- meaning a veto-proof majority. That's a really simple analysis, of course. Support for timetables is lower than opposition to the war in general, and that doesn't even count the effect of party discipline on voting behavior. But if the group can show it has support among rank-and-file Republicans, Bush will be forced to listen if he doesn't want to suffer a humiliating foreign-policy defeat.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sean says...."What exactly is there to discuss, if the precondition is meeting all of the president's demands?"

Well---if the Democrats have a good persuasive argument as to how setting a time certain will ensure a win and success in Iraq, then maybe Bush will change his mind. If they don't have such an argument, I doubt it will. But for the same Dems who seem to think it's a good idea to engage in talks and discussions with Iran and Syria, I can't imagine they would pass up this opportunity.


4/11/2007 9:44 AM  

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