An increasingly-isolated President George W. Bush heads into tonight’s State of the Union Speech facing mounting opposition to his failed Iraq war policies and escalating defections from his own party.
Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq brought increasing Republican opposition Monday as a Democratic-led Senate panel prepared tough questioning for the man who would carry out the plan as the new war commander.
With opinion polls showing Bush’s approval rating at the lowest point for an American president since Richard M. Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, Bush faces a serious crisis of confidence from all fronts.
White House sources tell Capitol Hill Blue that the President is visibly angered by increasing Republican opposition to his Iraq war policies and that the West Wing operates today under a “siege mentality.” Staff members say they are aware of eroding public and political support for the President but add that no one is willing to confront Bush on the issue.
“The ship of state is sinking and the lifeboats are full,” says one senior staff member.
On Capitol Hill Lt. Gen. David Petraeus testifies today in a bid for his fourth star and command of the Iraq war. Petraeus would replace Gen. George Casey, who has been tapped to become the next Army chief of staff.
Petraeus, a former division commander and once the head of the Iraqi training mission, is considered a shoo-in for the position. Devoted early in the war to trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, Petraeus later wrote the Pentagon manual on how to tackle insurgencies. He also previously supported expanding U.S. forces in the region.
But Petraeus will have a tough sell before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which must approve his nomination, if he is going to back the president in sending 21,500 troops in addition to the estimated 130,000 already there.
Sen. John Warner of Virginia and two other Republicans on Monday announced legislation denouncing the increase, as House leadership drafted what they called “strategic benchmarks” for the war.
“How much louder Ã¢â‚¬â€ and how much clearer Ã¢â‚¬â€ does the opposition to his plan need to be before the president will begin to listen and respond to the voices of the American people, the generals and a bipartisan majority of Congress?” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said a day before Bush was scheduled to give his annual State of the Union address.
Kennedy and other lawmakers on the Armed Services panel were expected to ask Petraeus whether he thought the added troops would make a difference in Iraq. Critics of the plan contend ground commanders have not been clamoring for more troops.
Warner, a former Navy secretary and defense hawk who chaired the panel until this year, is likely to provide political cover for members wary of the war plan but reluctant to embarrass a GOP president. His resolution Ã¢â‚¬â€ backed by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Ã¢â‚¬â€ would say the Senate disagrees with the plan to augment U.S. forces and that the president should consider options that would achieve “strategic goals” with fewer troops than 21,500.
“I feel ever so strongly that the American GI was not trained, not sent over Ã¢â‚¬â€ certainly not by resolution of this institution Ã¢â‚¬â€ to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shiite and the wanton, incomprehensible killing that’s going on at this time,” Warner told reporters Monday.
The resolution is similar to one offered last week by Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Carl Levin, D-Mich. Biden is running for president, and Hagel is a potential 2008 candidate.
Since Bush announced his plan on Jan. 10, Congress has been deeply split on how to react. Senate and House Democratic leaders back the resolution drafted by Hagel, Levin and Biden. That measure will likely be voted on by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday and sent to the floor, where GOP leaders have vowed a filibuster.
While the various measures have varying amounts of support, none carries the weight of a law that would bar the president, as commander in chief, from deploying military personnel as he sees fit.
Warner said he believed his plan would offer broader appeal among Republicans than Hagel’s proposal. While largely similar, Warner’s measure leaves open the possibility of Bush sending small numbers of troops to certain areas, such as Anbar province, and avoids terms some say are partisan.
“It’s a stronger message when it has significant bipartisan support. … This resolution will really, I think, be a very strong message to the White House,” Nelson said.
But not every member is willing to sign on.
“It declares General Petraeus’ new strategy a failure before it has a chance to be implemented,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said he has told the president “that the support is still strong among Republicans but there are a lot of our members who are skeptical that the plan will work” because of doubts that the Iraqi government will follow through on its commitments.
(Parts of this article were written by Anne Flaherty of The Associated Press)