Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sticking with The Decider, for better or worse

As the usual sectarian violence continues to rage in Iraq -- nothing has changed since evil-doer Zarqawi was slain to great acclaim; at least 70 civilians have died around Baghdad since the weekend; an ambitious U.S. military effort to secure the city has faltered -- I am busy thumbing the pages of National Review, a conservative bible that often offers political tips to restive Republican politicians.

Here's the magazine's latest advice on how to handle the Iraq issue (which it calls "the elephant in the room") during the autumn congressional campaign: Stick with Bush, because there's no other choice.

The magazine says that GOP pols can make Iraq a winning issue if they aim their persuasive powers on those Americans who once supported the war but now deem it to be a mistake. Republican strategists believe that roughly 25 percent of the people in the mistake camp are "former hawks" who, in the magazine's view, might still be open to the old arguments that "Saddam was a threat to us and our interests," that UN containment policy was teetering, that the cost of failure would be serious; and that "Saddam had a WMD capacity and ties with terrorists." (You've got to love that last one, a deft attempt at revisionist history. Before the war, we were not told that Saddam had a "capacity" for WMDs. We were told that he actually had WMDs, and that they were aimed at us.)

Anyway, the main advice is that the only viable political choice is to stick with Bush, because "congressmen will get some credit vfrom Republican voters for being seen as resolute and standing by the president. The alternative isn't an option. There is no running from the war at this point. That will only further depress Republican hawks and implicitly make the Democratic case that the war was a mistake...The election prospects of House Republicans will be boosted if the poll numbers for the war and for Bush tick upward."

Left unsaid, however, is what could happen to some of the vulnerable Republicans if poll numbers on the war continue to slide. It's doubtful that this conservative advice would be much comfort to the moderate Republican congressmen who are fighting to save their careers in northeastern U.S. districts where antiwar sentiment is strong. Which explains why one of those endangered lawmakers, Connecticut's Christopher Shays has been voicing all kinds of mea culpas, declaring that he failed during the prewar phase to ask the tough questions. He said the other day that, by failing to get tough with the administration early on, he and other Republicans on Capitol Hill were "unfaithful to the process and our system of government."

That kind of talk presumably won't sit well with the National Review devotees who think that all Republicans should tie their fates to the Decider, but, for vulnerable Republicans, some deft distancing might up the odds on political survival.