Analysis: Republicans Fear War Fallout

The Associated Press
Monday, October 23, 2006; 7:00 PM

WASHINGTION -- Republicans worried about losing Congress are challenging President Bush on Iraq, eroding his base of support for the unpopular war just two weeks before midterm elections.

Increasing calls from restive Republicans for new ideas to extricate the U.S. come as the White House itself seems to struggle for a better course, or at least a better way to describe the current course.

Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, seemed to open the floodgates to GOP criticism this month when he warned after a trip to Iraq that the war was "drifting sideways" and a course correction might soon be warranted.

In recent days:

_ Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she would not have supported the invasion had she known there were no weapons of mass destruction, and she has proposed splitting Iraq into three parts.

_ Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen, in a difficult re-election battle with Democratic challenger James Webb, dropped his stay-the-course mantra to assert, "We cannot continue doing the same things and expect different results. We have to adapt our operations, adapt our tactics."

_ Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said in a debate last week with Democratic challenger Jon Tester that he agreed with Warner's call for a change in strategy _ and believed Bush already had a plan to win the war but for now was keeping it quiet. That remark drew ridicule from Democrats who likened it to Richard Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam.

Also challenging Bush's Iraq policy have been former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and several House Republicans.

More and more, the issue is dominating election campaigns and altering the political landscape. That, and the historic pattern of midterm losses for the party holding the White House, has cast a heavy gloom over rank-and-file Republicans, particularly those on the ballot.

The GOP doubts, coupled with widespread Democratic opposition to Bush's strategy, put intense pressure on the White House to do something differently, and momentum for that will build if Republicans lose the House or Senate. Bush has stopped saying he is staying the course because that suggested he was locked into a losing policy. Now Bush asserts that he is constantly switching tactics.

Sen. James A Baker III, a former secretary of state who has a long history of loyalty to the Bush family, has said the Iraq Study Group _ which he leads with former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana _ will wait until after the Nov. 7 elections to present its recommendations.

But he has suggested the panel will present Bush with options somewhere between the extremes of "stay the course" and "cut and run."

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