GOP’s August Message to Focus on Progress in Iraq

Posted August 1, 2007 at 6:31pm

Seeking to generate momentum on Iraq leading up to the highly anticipated mid-September briefing by Gen. David Petraeus, House Republicans are expected to focus heavily on the war’s progress during the August recess to support the Bush administration’s case that the surge strategy is working and Congress should not pre-empt military leaders on the ground.

“We have a lot to tell our Members about what’s going on in Iraq, and we expect our Members will have all the information at their disposal to communicate in a very candid way with their constituents about those things that are going well and those things that are not meeting our expectations in Iraq, and that we await the report from the person that knows the most about Iraq, and that is Gen. Petraeus,” House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) told reporters Wednesday.

August could be a bruising month for the GOP as public polling continues to indicate low public support for the war and as outside groups and anti-war activists are ramping up efforts to target Members back in their districts. For example, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq announced Wednesday a monthlong grass-roots campaign to target 60 Republican lawmakers.

“We want to be sure that these Members hear the voices of the majority of the American people, the majority of their constituents,” Americans Against Escalation in Iraq Field Director Kate Snyder said in a statement. “The tide has turned and Members must feel a sense of accountability for their votes. They have the choice to make, they will either protect America or protect George Bush.”

Republicans, and House leaders in particular, have been bolstered by what they say are glimpses of a sea change in Iraq. “Clearly I think the news has been good,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday. “We know in the last three or four weeks we’ve had the most success in rounding up and killing al-Qaida in Iraq, and I hope that that progress continues.”

GOP leadership aides said there has been improved coordination on a staff level between the White House, Pentagon and House leaders to share information and hold meetings on Iraq in recent weeks. “We told the Pentagon, ‘You have to give us more information,’” one aide said.

The Republican Conference is expected to include a supplemental section on Iraq in its August recess packet, including lengthy talking points and favorable statistics on the war operation. “Our Members can’t just go home and say, ‘We’re going to wait for Petraeus.’ They need to be able to go home and make the case for exactly why we’re going to wait,” a leadership aide said.

The Conference is expected to supply the rank and file with a series of charts and graphics detailing the Members of al-Qaida who have been captured or killed; the decreases in sectarian murders; the decrease in attacks in certain areas; and progress made by the Iraqi military, among others.

Republican leadership offices have orchestrated a coordinated effort this week to highlight positive comments by freshman Democrats who recently returned from Iraq, and to attack comments reported by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) that a positive report by Petraeus could be politically difficult for Democrats.

Putnam called the comments “unconscionable,” and Clyburn’s remarks have prompted lengthy responses on conservative blogs and talk radio. Further bolstering beleaguered House Republicans was a widely publicized opinion piece in The New York Times this week by Brookings scholars Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack arguing that there is significant progress being made in Iraq.

“The recent developments, the op-ed by O’Hanlon and Pollack, certainly reinforced what the administration has been saying for some time now — that the surge is having a positive impact on security and stability in Iraq,” Putnam said.

Iraq will dominate the Congressional schedule in September, as Congress must pass another supplemental war spending bill and the Defense appropriations bill will be on the floor. Democratic leaders have taken the near polar opposite position from their GOP counterparts to argue that the surge — and the war — have failed, and a growing number of Democrats are calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. That divide is unlikely to change significantly when the House returns.

Republicans “can’t spin facts,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said.

“How’s the political reconciliation going?” he added rhetorically, pointing to the Iraqi parliament’s decision to recess in August despite continued divisions in the nation’s government and repeated failures to meet benchmarks.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.