Bush stands alone with ‘new way forward’

By Ed Luce in Washington

Financial Times

Published: January 12 2007

President George W. Bush on Thursday cut an increasingly lonely and embattled figure as opposition Democrats and fellow Republicans greeted his “new way forward” in Iraq with a barrage of denunciation.

Although Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, said that Mr Bush’s plan to send a further 21,500 troops to Iraq “made sense”, the US president appeared more isolated than ever before. Republicans pointed to the fact that Mr Bush’s address came as the UK plans to announce by the end of next month the withdrawal of about 2,600 troops from Iraq.

“Why is it just the United States that is shouldering this?” said Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator. “Why is Great Britain withdrawing? Why are we the only ones that are moving forward with this new plan?”

Republican senators who publicly opposed Mr Bush’s plan included Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Sam Brownback – both of whom have traditionally backed the White House – in addition to a growing list of Republicans facing 2008 election campaigns.

This show of Republican opposition prompted comparisons with Richard Nixon during the Vietnam era.

“Republican support for the president is draining rapidly,” said a party strategist. “It is almost unheard of for Republicans to criticise a Republican president at war so soon after he has made an appeal for support.”

Democrat leaders were scathing in their response, accusing Mr Bush of having betrayed his promise of bipartisanship following the Republican defeat in midterm elections last November.

Chris Dodd, a Democrat presidential hopeful, accused the Bush administration of living in a “fool’s paradise”. Joe Biden, another Democrat presidential candidate, called Mr Bush’s troop “surge” a “big mistake”. 

There is little Congress can do to prevent the president from conducting the war in the manner he wishes but Democrats are considering symbolic legislation that would rebuke Mr Bush’s Iraq strategy.

“The president could find himself so isolated so quickly that he would be forced to fundamentally revise his strategy in Iraq, which he has not done,” said Zbigniew Brzezinski, a national security adviser under former president Jimmy Carter. “My real fear is that a president who is backed into a corner and prone to demagoguery will listen to the neoconservatives and expand this war to Iran or Syria.”

Polls on Thursday showed an overwhelming majority of Americans opposing Mr Bush’s troop “surge”.

“This administration took a gamble [by going to war in Iraq],” said Barack Obama, a potential Democrat presidential candidate. “It staked American prestige on the premise that it could overthrow a dictator and bring democracy to Iraq. It appears that gamble has failed.”

Stephen Hess, a former Nixon administration official, said Mr Bush was unlikely to be derailed from his chosen course in Iraq.