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The Iraq Debate's Winners and Losers

With the Senate grinding to a halt over the "debate about debating" an anti-surge resolution, it's time for Capitol Briefing to examine who the winners and losers are in the fight over how the chamber should express its view of President Bush's plan to send at least 21,500 more troops into Iraq.

As Shailagh Murray and I wrote in Wednesday's Post, the effort to pass a nonbinding resolution -- in effect, a no-confidence vote on the president's Iraq plans -- has stalled. Democrats want to limit the debate to the Warner-Levin resolution, but Republicans want to consider another proposal, authored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), that is viewed as a support-the-troops measure that most every senator would back. Such a scenario could cause political embarrassment for Democrats who would end up with a popular resolution that is essentially pro-Bush.

So here's a look at the winners and losers in this debate ... at least in terms of the inside politics of the Senate. All of this could change dramatically if the stalemate is broken next week and a resolution is approved. And, by all means, dear readers, offer up your own suggestions in the comments section below.

So here we go: three senators up, three down:


* Chris Dodd (D-Conn.): When his Democratic leadership cut a deal with Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to move a centrist resolution of disapproval, Dodd pounced. He was the loudest critic of the Warner language, particularly the portion that appeared to say that the Senate would never move to cut off funding for the Iraq war. This is anathema to liberals, who are not ready now to cut off funding but who want to reserve the right to do so later. Dodd and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) gave voice to those on the left, as well as to a quiet but substantial portion of the caucus that wants to take stronger, meaningful measures of opposition to Bush. "We ought to be taking stronger action," Dodd said, distinguishing himself from every other senator running for the White House in 2008.

* John McCain (R-Ariz.): McCain's positioning on the Iraq war is a risky move as he charts his campaign for the White House, but this past week he has continued to be the most articulate spokesmen on Capitol Hill in favor of the troop surge. His resolution wasn't about to win a large number of votes, but he remained consistent on the issue and, if the tide turns in favor of the Bush administration this year, he will be able to take some chunk of the credit.

* Norm Coleman and Susan Collins: We may have to come up with a new word for Sens. Coleman (Minn.) and Collins (Maine), two GOP incumbents from northern tier states up for reelection in 2008 who are already distancing themselves from the White House. Watch these two senators, they may well be voting together an awful lot this year and next. On Monday, they were the only two Republicans to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats to move forward with the debate on Warner-Levin. They showed independence, something they will be touting an awful lot so long as Bush remains unpopular in their home states.


* Joe Biden (D-Del.). Everyone thought that Biden's "clean" and "articulate" comments about Barack Obama were the worst news of his presidential campaign launch day. But it's entirely possible that the worst thing happened later that evening when his leadership undercut him and signed on to the Warner-Levin bill. Up to that point, it appeared possible that Biden's resolution, co-authored with another potential 2008 aspirant, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), would be the main vehicle through which the Senate would oppose Bush's troop surge. Then his resolution was set aside, and Biden was left to defend his comments about his other primary competitors -- instead of talking about his own anti-Bush resolution.

* John Warner (R-Va.). Warner went from being a winner to a loser and, after last night, maybe a winner again. He touted his centrist anti-surge resolution as the one measure that could win the largest number of votes. It was promoted as classic Warner -- the senatorial maverick bucking his own party. Except it hasn't ended that way. The resolution stalled, and Warner actually voted against moving ahead to debate his own resolution. Yesterday, Warner tried again to move to his resolution, but he still doesn't have enough votes. This prompted a scathing reaction from the anti-war group Americans Against Escalation in Iraq: "They were for it, before they were against it, before they were for it again."

* Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell: Majority Leader Reid (Nev.) and Minority Leader McConnell (Ky.) come away from the Iraq resolution debate with a little less luster. While Reid's failure to get any movement on these measures so far is understandable given the chamber rules, it does not bode well for future votes on Iraq. McConnell appears to have won the hand-to-hand combat on parliamentary moves on the floor, beating back Reid on the first substantive debate held this year. But at what cost? Politically, McConnell may have left a handful or more of his own caucus in the awkward position of defending Bush's Iraq war as they prepare to face tough reelection challenges next year.

By Paul Kane  |  February 8, 2007; 1:31 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Won't the real winner be McCain (assuming the troop increase turns out to work). All the other candidates so vocal on the other side that should the increase be viewed as a success ie violence significantly decreases, the rest will be trying to clarify how they were for the troop increase but thought it was too expensive.

Posted by: Pete | February 8, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Coleman's a flip flopping weasel, in 2002 when Bush was popular he ran as a lap dog who would be able benefit Minnesota by sucking up to the king. Everyone who knew Coleman knew even then that after Bush's popularity inevitably nose dived Norm would reinvent himself as an independent. Hopefully Coleman's 2008 defeat was guaranteed by Bush's 2004 victory.

Posted by: aleks | February 8, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Umm, that's a pretty big assumption, Pete.

Along the same lines, won't the real winner be Biden (assuming that all other Democratic Presidential contenders are stricken down with bird flu)?

Posted by: Brendan | February 8, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The real loser is the American people looking for leadership. The recent elections clearly showed that what is happening in Iraq is unacceptable and that it is time to hand the reigns of government over to the Iraqis. Congress has had 5 years to debate the war. Now it is time to take action, even if it is just symbolic. How many people died in Iraq while they were quibling over to debate or not?

Posted by: ZP | February 8, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Reid didn't help his party or the Senate as an institution by trying to control which resolutions got voted on. The Senate is not, thank God, the House of Representatives, and to that extent the GOP Senators had a legitimate gripe.

But Reid won't take much public blame because the Republican leadership was so vocal about wanting to block any resolution critical of the President. It wasn't just Republicans blocking an Iraq debate, but the media coverage made it look that way. McConnell and Lott have only themselves to blame for that.

Posted by: Zathras | February 8, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

The big losers were Republican supporters of the Warner resolution who foolishly stuck with their caucus and now are left with their only vote on the subject in support of the President's policies. Gordon Smith in my state of Oregon is in big trouble and this doesn't help. He looks like a fool, not the "tough, independent-minded" Senator he was hoping to portray.

Posted by: Chuck | February 8, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the Dems won this round. What happened in the end is the Republicans banded together to protect Bush from debate and criticism, and that is how Reid left it. That's a win for the Dems, not as big as getting a no confidence vote, but it's something.

Posted by: grytpype | February 8, 2007 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Far and away the biggest winner: the House of Representatives. They get to display leadership and productivity on this issue. The Senate appears paralyzed/marginalized until they take up whatever the House produces.

The D's get another reason to take to the voters in 2008: R's in the Senate = paralysis. And I'm a fan of divided government.

'Victory' in Iraq, BTW, increasingly looks like Nixon's "peace with honor" in Vietnam. Surge all you want 'cause the Shiites will just lay low. The day we leave the extremists take over; that end is firmly written in stone. To think anything else means you are not paying attention.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 8, 2007 6:11 PM | Report abuse

As far as Senator Collins, the Iraq War is very unpopular in Maine but there is also a strong sense in all of northern New England I expect that we will support the President's decision when it comes to providing Guard and Reserve.

We are of course rewarded with the Defense Dept. trying to close nearly every base in New England, and the associated Commissaries which are especially needed by the Guard and Reserve. From here in Maine it certainly seems like what the Defense Dept. is most afraid of isn't terrorism, but dealing with very cold weather!

Posted by: Chris Baker, Maine | February 8, 2007 6:20 PM | Report abuse

IF, IF this plan comes off as enough of a success to show progress and appears to be evidence of the surge being a proper course of action, McCain will be the big winner, no doubt, as the face of the "more troops camp" all along and as the man who pushed everyone to give this a chance and the man they universally confirmed (Gen Petraeus) a chance. IF the plan fails, its clear, McCain comes off badly, but not sure anyone clearly wins, since there are so many voices trying to be THE voice of opposition. So I'm not sure who the failure of this plan helps the most, other than it surely helps Democrats in general...I don't care who the Dems nominate; that person wins if Iraq is in the same state Fall of 2008 as it is now...only a turnaround in Iraq can give any GOP nominee a shot at the White House.

Posted by: Denver, USA | February 8, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm just mystified why it is that there's no real debate on when to end the war. Lots of tap-dancing, but if you watched the Hagel speech, even he, right there at the end, is looking for some angle to keep selling the war with.

Where there were elections to put the Democrats forward to oppose the war, there can be recall elections, too.

I guess the real question to ask your representative is how much longer they believe it's right and proper to carry on with the war, and what their opinion or position on impeachment might be. If the story before the war began was fraudulent,
as many have asserted, then the whole business was based on a lie.

I think this Congress has the unenviable task before them of whether or not to can this entire administration, and they're not in any big hurry to go forward along those lines. But, it's also part of why they got elected, to take a strong position against it, now it remains to be seen whether they'll do it, or not. Is truth more important than oil? Hmmm....

Posted by: Bert | February 9, 2007 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"if the tide turns in favor of the Bush administration this year"

If I get wheels, I'll become a bus.

Do you guys ever stop with the McCain fellating? Jeesh...

Posted by: TomT | February 9, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

If this war turns around lizard lips Lie-berman and John Flipflop McCain will join forces to run for the pResidency.

Posted by: Jason | February 9, 2007 6:18 PM | Report abuse

The fact that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction is proven,(he used them on the Kurds, and the Iranians before them) has somehow been ignored by the media and anti-war Americans. I wonder what all you anti-war people will say if we leave Iraq and the terrorists show up over here on Main St. Would that make you willing to fight for something other than appeasement? The Iraqis need to stand up and fight for themselves VERY soon, but we need to give them and Bush one last chance!

Posted by: Michael | February 10, 2007 5:47 AM | Report abuse

the President's goal is to keep the war going until November 2008 so he can keep talking about victory in Iraq and leave it to the next president to take our soldiers out of Iraq. The next president will probably be a democrat and I am sure this is what the President and his cabal secretly hope for. It makes no difference whether our troops come home now or five years from now , civil war and chaos will reign over the Middle East. And while President Bush keeps this war going for another two years another 1500-2000 American soldiers will die. I don,t how the man can sleep at night.

Posted by: lou in boston | February 10, 2007 6:49 PM | Report abuse

If in his last moments Saddam showed contrition, or remorse or asked forgiveness we can never know ;only a knowing God can know and adjudicate. But what can one say of his executioners - if they believed in a hell need they have taunted and goaded him - he was in their urgings going there anyway but and if they believed in deliverance through a Devine mercy by any deity ; Allah ; God - any supreme being - how could they torment him even as the trapdoor opened.

Now consider the paradox that would surely have been if the British had captured Saddam and he immediately sought asylum in the UK because of his perceived fears of a trial culminating in the death sentence - a system which is not countenanced in the UK, I believe in these circumstances Saddam would have argued for such protection and have succeeded as did Pinochet.
The problem is that now are exposed the fault lines between the allies in the ethics of warfare and its sequellae. There is already an evidential wish for the British to distance themselves from what was a dark, brutal, gruesome and unseeingly hasty execution.
A new hatred between Arab cultures has been fomented by the invasion of Iraq - that between Sunni and Sheite ; it has been exacerbated by this trial and execution to an untold degree.
As the Bush administration seek to justify a new surge of troops in a country already in a state of civil war, where the Houses on record at least should oppose such a venture Bush seems destined to sink to depths of unpopularity not even known to Nixon.

Posted by: donkykemore | February 10, 2007 8:36 PM | Report abuse

The "we'll fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here" is one of the biggest loads of hogwash in this entire debate. Does anyone seriously think our being in Iraq is stopping Al Qaeda and other groups from trying to infiltrate the US? That was the original point to this war on terror: terrorist groups aren't limited by conventional battle tactics. They're as able to strike the US while we're fighting a foreign war as when we're not! If anything, we're helping them by providing a live, ongoing cause for recruitment.

Posted by: Mike | February 13, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Good depiction of the whole wretched situation, sad in fact. What could make it more sad? Maybe Sadam's clumsy execution? This sad indeed It almost got me crying, not because I felt so sad, but because I felt hopeless and helpless, which I was, for I could do nothing. this must have been how friends of his victims felt but what could they do do? Nothing. And although I was hardly a friend of his, nor did I want to be, i make it a matter of principle to care about all living beings, which he certainly was, although he hardly gave his victims that respect. I feel like I am going to great lengths to be fair to him now that he could really care less, poor silly nasty little bully of no great moment or importance the world is well done with him. Good-bye Sadam' Hussein. Delaney

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

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