Congressional Winds of Change Over Iraq

The Democratic leader in the Senate has finally uttered the truth. "There is a civil war going on in Iraq," said Harry Reid. (Sunday's New York Times carries an excellent op-ed by Nicholas Sambanis called "It's Official: There Is Now a Civil War in Iraq.") Reid acknowledged that he had been "somewhat gingerly approaching this" but promised, "no longer." Amen. It's about time.

Predictably, the other side puffed out its chest and threatened to open up another can of floor debate whoop ass if the Democrats tried to make Iraq an issue again. "If they want to do that," said Eric Ueland, Bill Frist's chief of staff, "we'll go to the mats." But that threat is as phony as the challenges tossed out for Wrestlemania. The truth is that it's getting harder and harder for Team GOP to keep trotting out its tried-and-true "cut and run" rhetoric because its own players are becoming less and less willing to be razzle-dazzled by the White House's delusional claims about Iraq.

Not surprisingly, as Republicans return to their home districts to campaign, they are discovering that Iraq is dominating the thoughts of voters -- and they are shifting their positions accordingly. Take Minnesota Congressman Gil Gutknecht, who last month helped lead the GOP charge against withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Members, now is not the time to go wobbly," he urged in June. "Let's give victory a chance."

But last week, he was singing a different tune. "I have to be perfectly candid: Baghdad is a serious problem," he said. "It's not safe to go anywhere outside of the Green Zone any part of the day." His assessment of the Bush administration's spin on the war is particularly damning: "All of the information we receive sometimes from the Pentagon and the State Department isn't always true."

He had just returned from Iraq where it is getting harder and harder to keep your head buried in the sand, and he was listening to his constituents back home four months before an election -- which also makes it harder to bury your head in the sand. Gutknecht is now calling for troop withdrawals to start immediately.

In the meantime, conservative pundits and intellectuals like George Will are reminding Republicans of a lesson that he says "conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world." Will suggests this forgotten truth has "emboldened many enemies."

Republicans wouldn't need Will's reminder if they had paid attention to what Russell Kirk, the man Ronald Reagan called "the prophet of American conservatism," had said again and again in over 30 books, and which boils down to what he wrote in "The Essence of Conservatism": "When progress is achieved, it is through prudent recognition of the limitations of human nature."

Perhaps Bush's sneering anti-intellectualism is finally catching up with him.