Facing crumbling support for the war among their own members, Senate Republican leaders yesterday sought to block bipartisan efforts to force a change in the American military mission in Iraq.
But the GOP leadership's use of a parliamentary tactic requiring at least 60 votes to pass any war legislation only encouraged the growing number of Republican dissenters to rally and seek new ways to force President Bush's hand. They are weighing a series of proposals that would change the troops' mission from combat to counterterrorism, border protection and the training of Iraqi security forces.
"I think we should continue to ratchet up the pressure -- in addition to our words -- to let the White House know we are very sincere," said Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who broke with the president last month.
Vice President Cheney attended a closed-door Republican luncheon to appeal for party unity in what Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) called "a vigorous debate." Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) said he took Cheney's side, telling his colleagues: "If we leave prematurely, it would be absolute anarchy. We'd be turning over to al-Qaeda one of the largest oil-producing states in the world."
But such sentiments are increasingly in the minority in the Senate. "June and May were among the bloodiest months of any since we've been there, and what has the Maliki government done? Virtually nothing," Collins said after the lunch, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
When even Republicans are balking at vague and hyperbolic claims of chaos, anarchy and an Islamic caliphate headed by Osama bin Laden, then times are certainly changing.