Domenici Off The Reservation
I think what we're going to see is some resolution in the Senate pass to adopt all the Iraq Study Group recommendations (Democrats should swiftly couple it with their already-passed bill to adopt the 9-11 Commission recommendations). That'll be as far as Republicans go in breaking with the President. Still, that's a somewhat significant shift, and Pete Domenici kicked the ball down that road today:
In a speech earlier today in Albuquerque, Domenici announced his support for legislation currently championed by Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to make the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group into the official U.S. policy — in other words, Domenici now supports a gradual pulldown of the American presence in Iraq, and a renewed effort at reaching out to other regional players in the Middle East like Iran and Syria.
"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward," Domenici said. "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."
The bill calls for redeploying a large portion of American forces out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008, except for those numbers deemed necessary for protecting U.S. infrastructure, training Iraq forces, and conducting special operations. So while a significant number of Americans would no doubt remain, they would not be charged with everyday constabulary duties and other aspects of nation-building.
We don't need a residual force in Iraq, and I don't know how the "special operations" would be any different than what most combat forces are doing right now (certainly the Bush Administration will justify things that way if pressed). This remains significant, because the way Congress ends a war is by chipping away bit by bit. This would stop the surge, no strings attached, instead of Robert Gates' crazy "surge-for-permanent-bases" deal. It would put the majority opinion of the legislative branch on the side of drawing down involvement in the Middle East instead of moving on to the next war like Joe "Iran has declared war on us" Lieberman. A smart Democratic majority would pounce on this and keep pushing, with more and more votes designed to weaken Republican support which is already buckling at the knees. Domenici is up for re-election in 2008, and so obviously him and other Republicans can be reversed, if not in a meaningful way then by degrees. They have to keep the pressure on.
UPDATE: That said, I do agree that Domenici's statement means nothing unless he's prepared to do something about it; that is, put his vote where his mouth is. Dick Lugar kind of failed that test. At least Domenici is signing on to a specific bill.
UPDATE II: Great statement by Harry Reid, essentially telling Domenici and others that talk is cheap and they'll have to back up their words:
"Senator Domenici is correct to assess that the Administration's war strategy is misguided. But we will not see a much-needed change of course in Iraq until Republicans like Senators Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich are willing to stand up to President Bush and his stubborn clinging to a failed policy – and more importantly, back up their words with action. Beginning with the Defense Authorization bill next week, Republicans will have the opportunity to not just say the right things on Iraq, but vote the right way too so that we can bring the responsible end to this war that the American people demand and deserve.