Who's Got the Urge to Surge?


Robert Novak (who, it's often forgotten, opposed the Iraq war) reports that support for a McCain-Bush escalation of the Iraq doesn't exist in Congress.

President Bush and McCain, the front-runner for the next presidential nomination, in pressing for a surge of 30,000 more troops, will have trouble finding support from more than 12 out of 49 Republican senators. "It's Alice in Wonderland," Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me in describing the proposed surge. "I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly."

Among Democrats, Lieberman stands alone. Sen. Joseph Biden, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, leads the rest of the Democrats not only to oppose a surge but to block it. Bush enters a new world of a Democratic majority where the big microphone he talks about is smaller because he must share the stage.

If you want to go with that "stage" metaphor, the Iraq debate is a Comedians of Comedy tour and Bush is coming to the stage as Gallagher. Fewer members of the new Senate support escalation than support a Kucinich-style pullout of all troops. John Kerry's amendment to withdraw troops by July 2007 got thirteen votes in a Senate that didn't yet include Jon Tester, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Jim Webb.

The Senate isn't in the habit of shunning foreign adventures, but if the McCain plan plays out the way it's been playing out, they'll probably cast the first major vote of no confidence in a major foreign conflict since the 1970s. There's literally no political benefit to supporting escalation, and that's all these people care about.

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  1. “Less members of the new Senate support escalation than support a Kucinich-style pullout of all troops.”

    I believe you mean “fewer,” Mr. Weigel.

  2. Surge…Surge… Prior to a few months ago, most of the uses of this word on the Internet would have been in the context of pornographic stories. No wonder Hawks love it so much.

  3. CS, I expect it’s most common usage in the past would likely have been for something more mundane like surge strips and protectors.

    “John Kerry’s amendment to withdraw troops by July 2007 got thirteen votes in a Senate that didn’t yet include Jon Tester, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Jim Webb.”

    So that would give it maybe 16 in a Congress that did contain these members? It’s a clever slight off hand, but the reality is that lack of congressional support for a surge does not equal support for a vote of withdrawl/no confidence. Bush doesn’t need congressional approval for a surge (and McCain needs even less to campaign with talk of such). While a Dem controlled congress can certainly slow things down a little and bluster a lot, they would have to actively have a majority vote against it to put a stop to it. While the number willing to do this has certainly grown and may even outnumber those members willing to vote for a surge, it’s not likely that it comes anywhere close to a majority vote.

    Looking at the cycles of violence in Iraq over the last few years, there’s more of a lull likely in the spring with an upswing generally coming by fall. That said, it would seem that a new surge would be seen as effective initially with a swing of the pendulum sometime next year. I wouldn’t expect the Dems to actually force a vote on the matter for another year with no election looming and the only effect of such a vote being to illustrate the weakness of the Dems despite now being in the position of power.

  4. Bush as Gallagher? I was thinking Carrottop.

  5. I concur with cinnabob. He already pointed out that Bush doesn’t need congressional approval to alter troop levels in Iraq. Moreover, even if a majority of members in both House and Senate oppose a troop surge (which I think is quite likely), my intuition tells me only a small percentage will actively oppose it. A significant number of people already think a troop surge can work. Furthermore, if the surge is cancelled, when the withdrawal occurs and Iraq really goes to shit (as I expect will inevitably occur), some of the present-day war skeptics are going to ask “what if?” and wonder if obstructionist peaceniks forced the U.S. to yield when victory was just around the corner. When congressmen weigh that risk against the marginal difference between 180K and 210K troops in Iraq (I think those are the numbers), I expect many will decide to remain silent.

    I hope the surge will succeed, but I expect it will not. Then my hope is that everyone will acknowledge that we don’t have any cards to play other than some form of significant withdrawal–or, at least, that the recurring seasonal dip in insurgent attacks (which appears to occur in the Winter, not the Spring–see pg. 22 of Brookings’ Iraq Index) will give the die-hards intellectual cover to claim victory.

  6. Hm, evidently I haven’t yet learned the art of providing links in Hit & Run posts. Brookings’ Iraq Index is available here:


  7. “…it’s not likely that it comes anywhere close to a majority vote.”


  8. joe,

    Did you even bother to read my second paragraph, or did the fact that I said this would be more likely a year from now not absorb after coming up with a snappy one word rejoinder to the last sentence of my first? Just curious.

  9. escalation of the Iraq?

  10. Easy there, big fella.

    It wasn’t a rejoinder, just an observation.

    Touchy, touchy.

  11. Bush can shuffle around what he has now to get a slight surge. But he would need more money to be able to finance an effective escalation. I think Weigel has a point that congress will need to be reckoned with. The war opponents have some momentum. There are going to be some interesting appropriations votes coming up soon. The Democrats that used the more troops up front critique to undermine Bush won’t have any problem with their own inconsistency in cutting funding if it might offer some political benefit.

  12. By the way, is Kucinich now seen as wise or just lucky for standing up early against a war that now only Bush and McCain support? Republicans still seem to mock France who they were mad about because they did not support our invasion of Iraq. It seems to me that they owe a Freedom Fries worth of apology to the now wise-looking country. But they still are mad that France didn’t support our country right-or-wrong.

  13. I noted the media reports a couple of days ago that the total US fatalities in Iraq now exceeds 3,000.

    The grim irony is that the War in Iraq has now killed more Americans than died on 9/11.

  14. “In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

    “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

    “Oh, you ca’n’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

    “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

  15. “The grim irony is that the War in Iraq has now killed more Americans than died on 9/11.”

    That’s hardly the point though, particularly since you’re talking about civilians on one hand and military personnel on the other.

    I mean plenty more Americans died in World War II than did at Pearl Harbor. Whether we should or shouldn’t have gone to War with the Japanese and Germans is based on factors other than the raw body count at Pearl Harbor.

    The War in Iraq was a bad idea on its own merits, not due to some statistical stuntery.

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