After hearing “just a few more months” repeatedly for years, it looks increasingly likely that September may very well be the end of the president’s Iraq policy.
In that month, political pressures in Washington will dovetail with the military timeline in Baghdad. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq’s warring factions. And fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, will almost certainly begin with Congress placing tough new strings on war funding.
“Many of my Republican colleagues have been promised they will get a straight story on the surge by September,” said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). “I won’t be the only Republican, or one of two Republicans, demanding a change in our disposition of troops in Iraq at that point. That is very clear to me.”
“September is the key,” said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds defense. “If we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, September is going to be a very bleak month for this administration.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: we’ve heard this before. “Friedman Unit” became a punch line precisely because every six months, vacillating war supporters would say, “Six more months.”
But this September might actually be the real deal. Petraeus is going to deliver a progress report and everyone seems pretty sure what it’s going to say.
Kevin Drum notes:
When September rolls around Gen. David Petraeus is almost certain to report that things are tough but progress is being made on the ground. And he’ll have metrics of some kind to back him up. What else is he going to do, after all? You can almost write his script right now.
But political progress? There are virtually no positive signs right now, and after 18 months of stalling it’s unlikely that 18 more weeks are going to make a difference.
Indeed, this touches on an important point — Dems need to set out defining “progress” now before the White House does it for them. Let’s not forget that the purpose of the so-called surge was to alleviate pressure in Baghdad so that political progress would at least be possible. So far, it’s not. If Petraeus reports in September about moving some sectarian violence from one province to another, the White House doesn’t get to call that “progress” that justifies extending the current policy. Dems need to get out in front now — “progress” means disarming militias, broad quelling of sectarian violence, sharing oil revenue, reintegrating Baathists, etc. Anything less is failure. And given what we know and expect, failure is what we’ll see in September.
Kevin added that he believes “there are at least a handful of moderate Republicans who are genuinely serious about abandoning Bush this time around.” Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think there will be more than a handful — and more that just moderates.
Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott says President Bush’s new strategy in Iraq has until about fall before GOP members will need to see results. […]
“I do think this fall we have to see some significant changes on the ground, in Baghdad and other surrounding areas,” Lott, R-Miss., told reporters.
Lott is hardly alone. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has taken a hard line in Bush’s favor, said Sunday, “By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B.”
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said yesterday, “There is a sense that by September, you’ve got to see real action on the part of Iraqis. I think everybody knows that, I really do.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) agreed, saying, “I think a lot of us feel that way.”
In fact, Senate Dems compiled a list of a half-dozen other Republican lawmakers offering similar comments.
That sound you hear is Republican unity on the war coming apart.