Democrats, the War and Shays's Rebellion

By Dana Milbank
Friday, October 26, 2007

A poll released yesterday by the Associated Press made it official: Americans are more likely to believe in ghosts (34 percent) than to believe that President Bush is doing a good job with the war in Iraq (29 percent).

So here's a spooky question: Why have Democrats, who now control both houses of Congress, failed in their efforts to end the war? Ask Rep. Christopher Shays.

Fourteen months ago, the Connecticut Republican, in a pitched battle to keep his seat in the House, announced that most U.S. troops should be removed from Iraq in 2007, saying that "the only way we are able to encourage some political will on the part of the Iraqis is to have a timeline for troop withdrawal." That position helped Shays squeeze out a 51 percent victory in his antiwar home state.

But yesterday, Shays sat opposite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building -- while ferociously defending the war and condemning Democrats for supporting a troop withdrawal. "It seems to me the basic contention of the Democratic majority is 'Because Iraq is corrupt, we need to withdraw,' " he said, "which has come down from 'Well, we weren't winning, we needed to withdraw,' 'It was immoral, we needed to withdraw.' So that's basically what's on the table, which is patently absurd."

Shays's vigorous defense of the administration in odd-numbered years is emblematic of the solid Republican support Bush has relied on to thwart the efforts of Democrats to limit the war -- even though for Shays and others from liberal districts, this amounts to political hara-kiri.

"I can't think of hardly anything . . . my Democratic colleagues have done to help our soldiers win Iraq," he told Rice in his opening statement. "Everything this committee has done," he added, "has been to try to point out everything bad that is going on."

Shays blames Democrats for his increased patience with the war. Though willing to support a pullout by December 2008 (he opposed a pullout by early 2008) he said after the hearing: "They have not reached out to me."

Shays was Rice's most visible defender yesterday, but other Republicans on the panel competed for her affections.

"Let me thank you for the hard work you're doing for this country and your professionalism every time I see you," offered Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.).

"I have very great admiration and respect for you, especially so since a few years ago when I heard you speak to the National Prayer Breakfast," concurred Rep. John Duncan (Tenn.).

"I admire you tremendously," gushed Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.).

And Rep. Chris Cannon (Utah) declared: "I've watched you on TV, which really is what counts, and you've been calm and concise -- hectored but unharried."

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