Reality Sets In on Capitol Hill … Finally

A number of Republicans on Capitol Hill have come forward in recent days with a new “spin” on events in Iraq, reports the Washington Post:

Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.

Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) is using his House Government Reform subcommittee on national security to vent criticism of the White House’s war strategy and new estimates of the monetary cost of the war. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse “than we’d been led to believe” and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.

The Post’s Jonathan Weisman and Anushka Asthana write, “Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war.”

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.) likened the situation in Iraq to the Bush adminstration’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina. In both instances, the White House/GOP spin was, and is, so at odds with what Americans see on television every day that the party’s credibility on a host of issues is called into question. “I still hear about that,” McHenry told the Post. “We can’t look like we won’t face reality.”

Gutknecht revised his version of reality after his most recent trip to Iraq. He was a leading opponent of a timeline for withdrawal in congressional debate last month, at one point urging, nay chastising, his colleagues, “Members, now is not the time to go wobbly.”

He appears to have come full-circle. “I guess I didn’t understand the situation,” he conceded, and he has concluded: “Essentially what the White House is saying is ‘Stay the course, stay the course.’ I don’t think that course is politically sustainable.” He therefore now supports a partial troop withdrawal on the grounds that it would “send a clear message to the Iraqis that the next step is up to you.”

“If we don’t take the training wheels off,” he went on to say, ”we will be in the same place in six months that we’re in today.”

Amen.

(Gutknecht’s new position is similar to that articulated by Cato scholars for some time. To see the full extent of Cato’s work on the subject, visit our Iraq page.)

The six House Republicans who voted against the authorization to use force against Iraq in October 2002 — Ron Paul (Tex.), Jim Leach (Iowa), John Hostettler (Ind.), Connie Morella (Md.), Amo Houghton (N.Y.), and John Duncan (Tenn.) — should wear their wisdom and foresight as a badge of honor. All other Republicans, and the remaining Democrats who voted for the war and have not yet admitted their error, can recover a shred of respectability by making an intellectual and personal journey similar to that of Shays, Gutknecht, McHenry, Jim Gerlach (Pa.), and others.

Americans can grouse, “What took you so long?”, but the more constructive response is “Thank you for coming to your senses.”