Top administration officials have begun talking with key Senate Republicans to walk them through his view of the next phase in the war, beyond the troop increase he announced six months ago today. Bush plans to lay out what an aide called "his vision for the post-surge" starting in Cleveland today to assure the nation that he, too, wants to begin bringing troops home eventually.
The White House devised the political strategy after days of intense internal discussions about how to respond to several prominent Republican senators who have broken with Bush's war policy recently. Bush decided against heeding their proposal to begin redeploying U.S. troops as early as this summer, but he and his team concluded that he needed to shift his message to show that he shares the goals of his increasingly restless Republican caucus and the broader public.
Alas, talk ain't gonna cut it this time:
Yet key Republican senators have indicated that they would not be satisfied with a change in political spin over a real change in strategy. In a speech on the Senate floor after a White House meeting yesterday, John W. Warner (R-Va.) set the tone, declaring this "a time in our history unlike any I have ever witnessed before." Warner recalled that Congress has voted to require Bush to demonstrate progress in Iraq or detail how he will alter his strategy, adding that he warned the White House to take it seriously.
"I was asked by the press whether I thought they'd brush it off," Warner said of the White House, "and I resoundingly replied, 'No.' "
They can't afford to. The pro-war coalition among the Republicans is crumbling, and some prominent and vulnerable Republican Senators and members of the House are fearing for their careers come next November. Bush is only talking about a shift if the security situation improves, which means nothing will happen, at least not according to him. But the power to direct the war seems to be slipping through his hands more and more each day.
I wrote just yesterday about how the tone on Iraq seemed to be shifting much faster than any of us anticipated it would after the "compromise" bill was passed last month. Republicans are not at all content to wait until September to start discussions on how to end the war, and Democrats intend to challenge Republicans in Congress and the administration over the war with upcoming amendments. Is there hope for a real change by the end of the year? With caution, I say...yes.