The New Way Forward Splinters the Grand Old Party

The president's New Way Forward in Iraq has split the GOP into three camps: the Triumphalists, the Just-Becausers, and the Realists.

The triumphalists are, of course, being led by the president himself. They are convinced that saying something is so can somehow make it so, and that any acknowledgment of reality is defeatist, cowardly, and un-American.

The use of rah-rah pep-talk nonsense is at the heart of the triumphalists' playbook. The president has told us again and again, including last night on 60 Minutes, that he believes we can succeed in Iraq. Despite all evidence to the contrary, and despite the fact that all he's offering are the same failed strategies.

He -- like all other triumphalists -- has clearly abandoned concrete thinking and moved on to the political equivalent of clapping your hands for Tinkerbell.

You need more than a fourth quarter pep-talk when you are getting your butt knocked up and down the field; you need a new game plan. But lacking one of those, the cheerleader-in-chief keeps reaching for the rhetorical pom-poms: "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude," he said, still waiting for those flowers to be tossed at our feet.

Yes, Bush is finally admitting mistakes. But only because, politically, he realizes he has to if he's going to be allowed to continue making more mistakes. And even then, his admissions are strangely detached, like when he told 60 Minutes: "No question, decisions have made things unstable." And who, pray, made those decisions? Wasn't it the Decider?

The rest of the triumphalists are in lockstep with their triumphal leader. "I believe that the war is still winnable," Sen. John McCain told the American Enterprise Institute.


Rocking the surge plan, McCain appeared on Face the Nation and predicted "we will go in, and we will clear and hold and build." He failed to explain how the addition of 21,500 troops -- which will bring troop levels back to what they already were in November of 2005 -- in a city of six million people is going to make it any easier to "clear and hold and build." But who needs explanations when you've got fanatical belief? "Do I believe it can succeed? Yes, I do."

Dick Cheney is also a dyed-in-the-wool triumphalist. Want to know his plan for success? Here it is: "We have to prevail, and we have to have the stomach for the fight, long term." So the plan to prevail is to... prevail? Gotcha.

And of course there's triumphalist -- and de facto Republican -- Sen. Joe Lieberman, who listened to John McCain's call for more troops and got all weak in the knees (and mushy in the head). "Senator McCain," he gushed at the AEI, "has shown the way to forge and advance a new strategy that will lead us to victory in Iraq and to victory in a larger war against terrorism."

And Sunday on Meet the Press he said: "My own sense of history tells me that in war, ultimately, there are two exit strategies. One is called victory; the other is called defeat." What utter bunk. It's shameful that this is the level of thinking that's sending American men and women into harm's way.

Marching behind the triumphalists are the "just becausers," their support a function of knee-jerk going-along-to-get-along. Think of them as dutifully self-lobotomized. This faction of the GOP has realized that there is no logic behind supporting Bush's war. So they don't even pretend there is. Listen to Sen. Jon Kyl:

"Everyone suggested we needed a new strategy. The president agreed with that, and he's now announced a new strategy." So get off the president's case, alright? For Kyl and his ilk, it doesn't matter if the new strategy is good or bad, just that there is one. Asking for anything more than that is just defeatist.

And then there is Sen. Mitch McConnell, who strapped on the blinkers and told Wolf Blitzer: "I think we ought to give the president a chance to succeed so we can have a victory there." I guess over three years, over $400 billion, and over 3,000 lives doesn't qualify as giving the president a chance. When asked by Blitzer why he believed the president's plan would succeed, McConnell paused for a considerable amount of time (so long, in fact, I wondered if CNN had lost the feed), then repeated "I think we ought to give it a chance," adding, "The president believes it will succeed. He believes he's going to have the cooperation of the Iraqis that he needs." In short, despite all the reasons not to trust what Bush believes, McConnell wants us to support the president and believe in what he believes...just because.

Then there's the third group, the newest one of the three. These are the GOP realists -- a growing collection of Republican office holders who actually acknowledge reality.

Foremost among them is Sen. Chuck Hagel, who, in a Senate hearing last week, said, "This speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out, I will resist it." He followed this up on Sunday's Meet the Press: "Now, someone is not listening here. There is a major disconnect... [Iraq] is a tribal sectarian civil war."

Sen. Sam Brownback and Sen. Gordon Smith have also joined the reality-based community. "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer," said Brownback. "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution." "This is the President's Hail Mary pass," said Smith. "We are extending an ineffective tactic to further the status quo."

If there is actually going to be a surge in the next few months, let's hope it's a surge in the number of GOP realists, who can take comfort in the fact that 70 percent of the American people are already with them. We need to clear the political landscape of rah-rah Pollyanna policies, hold that ground, then build an Iraq strategy that acknowledges reality. Now that's a "clear and hold and build" plan I can get behind.