Not everyone, of course, and probably not enough (in the Senate, at least) to form a veto-proof majority, but enough to give the left an irresistible talking point about “bipartisan consensus” and leverage to force the next major spending-bill compromise to be forged on its own terms. McCain likes to say that the road to victory’s going to be long and hard and tough, but that’s only two-thirds right: it’s not going to be long, for the simple reason that not everyone, including and especially the party leadership, is willing to stake their political future on our fortunes in Iraq the way McCain has. Petraeus has about 20 weeks to turn it around, otherwise a whole bunch of people — led by Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, John Sununu and various other blue-state conservatives — are going to head for the lifeboats to put as much distance between them and the war as they can before next year’s election.
Congressional leaders from both political parties are giving President Bush a matter of months to prove that the Iraq war effort has turned a corner, with September looking increasingly like a decisive deadline.
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…
The new House proposal would immediately provide about $43 billion of the $95.5 billion the administration says it needs to keep the war going through Sept. 30… The remaining $52.5 billion in the bill would be contingent on a second vote in late July…
“There is a sense that by September, you’ve got to see real action on the part of Iraqis,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). “I think everybody knows that, I really do.”
“I think a lot of us feel that way,” agreed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
I don’t see the point of July two-step, unless it’s a token gesture of resistance to please the nutroots and the anti-war stalwarts. If they show good faith and give Bush the money he needs through September, they have a stronger case to make to wavering Republicans in October that they gave him every opportunity to make the surge work and he blew it. If they make a stink in July, though, it’ll alienate and further entrench the right’s moulting hawks. Centrist Dem Ben Nelson’s already talking about extending the funding straightaway through September 30, probably for that very reason.
Poor Petraeus. What a task.
Update: Electoral realities do make the bickering over a timetable for withdrawal somewhat absurd. If AQ’s paying close enough attention to Harry Reid’s declarations of defeat to cite them in their communiques, they’re paying close enough attention to know that things are coming to a head here in the fall. So never mind withdrawal: if they want to capitalize, it’s not troop movements but political maneuvering that they’ll time their attacks to exploit. Expect a go-for-broke uptick in attacks in August, in other words.