Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Republican discord in the Senate

Boston Globe
Republican discord in the Senate

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist | September 22, 2004

THE VOICE of the moment on Iraq is Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Almost as audible are his fellow Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Hagel was with several guests on Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation." Before he spoke, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona was given a chance to discuss whether President Bush was talking straight with the American people about Iraq.

Kyl answered, "Absolutely." He described Bush as a leader who "has a firm idea of what he wants to accomplish." He said, "Freedom is on the march." He praised Bush's decisiveness, saying, "Hand-wringing does not win wars."

Hagel had none of that partisan jingoism. He was asked by the host, Bob Schieffer, "Do you think, Senator Hagel, that we're winning?"

Hagel said, "No, I don't think we're winning. In all due respect to my friend Jon Kyl, the term `hand-wringing' is a little misplaced here. The fact is, a crisp, sharp analysis of our policies is required. We didn't do that in Vietnam and we saw 11 years of casualties mount to the point where we finally lost. We can't lose this. This is too important. There's no question about that. But to say, `Well, we just must stay the course and any of you who are questioning are just hand-wringers' is not very responsible. The fact is, we're in trouble. We're in deep trouble in Iraq."

We are in such deep trouble in Iraq that when Schieffer asked Hagel how long it would take to get an Iraqi army and police force up to speed to secure the country, Hagel said, "It's probably two years."

We are in such deep trouble that McCain, who just a couple of weeks ago was hugging Bush in a show of unity, said on Fox: "We made serious mistakes right after the initial successes by not having enough troops on the ground, by allowing the looting, by not securing the borders." While Bush says on the stump "we are winning and we will win," McCain said, "the situation has obviously been somewhat deteriorating, to say the least."

More important, McCain was asked by his host, Chris Wallace: "Is the president being straight with the American people? Is he leveling with them about just how tough the situation is in Iraq?"

McCain answered, "Perhaps not as straight as maybe we'd like to see. . . It's not satisfactory to just use airstrikes or artillery. You've got to send our troops in there on the ground. And that, of course, means the most difficult kind of fighting. . . . I'd like to see more of an overall plan articulated by the president."

On yet another talk show, yet another influential Republican senator, Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was scathing. On ABC's "This Week," he said the reason so little of the Iraq reconstruction money has been spent is because of "incompetence in the administration." This was on the heels of Lugar's comments last week at a hearing when he said: "Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration -- what I call the `dancing in the street crowd' -- that we just simply will be greeted with open arms. The nonsense of all that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent."

Neither Hagel, McCain, nor Lugar is about to jump the Republican ship. All three were careful to say they still want Bush's policies to succeed. But when three such prominent Republicans issue such pointed statements a month and a half before the presidential election, when they've had enough of hearing "we are winning" from their standard-bearer and when it is Hagel, not Kerry, the liberals, or the left, invoking Vietnam, it is a sign that the administration's policy in Iraq is falling into a tailspin.

Hagel, the Purple Heart Vietnam veteran worried about Bush's obvious unilateralism in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, wrote in 2002: "I can think of no historical case where the United States succeeded in an enterprise of such gravity and complexity as regime change in Iraq without the support of a regional and international coalition."

Two years later, Bush is on the stump, keeping the war simple. His favorite punch line, after depicting John Kerry as a hand-wringer, is "there is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat." Hagel, McCain, and Lugar, not just the Democrats, are worried that Bush's blindly optimistic and simple-minded invasion is leading to a grave, complex defeat. It is easy for Bush to call Kerry a flip-flopper. But what about those hand-wringing Republicans?