The debate in Washington over Iraq has narrowed to a basic choice: whether to endorse a blank check for President Bush to continue his war in Iraq, as conservatives are demanding, or to begin the safe and responsible redeployment of U.S. forces, as Congress has endorsed. On the defensive, President Bush has adopted a strategy “patterned after Bill Clinton’s 1995-96 showdown with the then-Republican Congress: shift blame to lawmakers for failing to fund the troops.” His arguments justifying a veto are easily debunked. But the power of the president’s bully-pulpit have some in the media suggesting that Bush will end up victorious, as Clinton was. But President Bush cannot recreate the outcome of 1995-96 because he is missing the crucial ingredient that ensured Clinton’s success — the support of the American people.
- President Bush has far lower approval ratings than President Clinton did in 1995. Prior to the first government shutdown, which began on November 14, 1995, Clinton’s job approval ratings were “significantly higher than Bush’s are now.” Meanwhile, President Bush’s approval ratings are lodged in a ditch. According to Gallup polling, Bush’s poll numbers have been mired in the 30s for seven consecutive months. “Since the advent of modern polling, only two presidents have suffered longer strings of such low ratings. One was Harry Truman, whose popularity sank during the final 26 months of his tenure as the Korean War stalemated. The other was Richard Nixon during the 13 months leading up to his resignation amid the Watergate scandal.”
- President Bush does not have the support of the American people for his Iraq strategy. In 1995-96, “polls also showed stronger support for Clinton’s position on the budget problem that led to the shutdown than for the position held by the then-Republican-led Congress,” as Media Matters documented. Days before the first government shutdown, The New York Times reported “a continuing erosion of public support” for the conservative budget program, with Americans opposed 45 percent to 35 percent. A USA Today/CNN poll released on November 10, 1995 “suggested Americans by wide margins [had] soured on the Republican agenda, with 60 percent saying [Clinton] should veto the budget bill and 33 percent saying he should sign it.” In contrast, a CNN poll last month found that 58 percent of Americans “want to see U.S. troops leave Iraq either immediately or within a year,” with a majority saying they “would rather have Congress running U.S. policy in the conflict than President Bush.”
- The president is increasingly isolated in his views on Iraq. President Bush’s credibilty with the American people has evaporated. Iraq critics in Congress are broadly united on setting on a timeline for withdrawal, while conservatives face immense pressure to distance themselves from the president’s disastrous war policy. And they are already beginning to crack. The Politico reported this week that a “diverse collection of House Republicans has formed an ad hoc group to negotiate with the White House on a compromise Iraq spending bill.” Representative Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) said he and others in the group “will encourage the White House to compromise on negotiations with Syria and Iran and on setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq.” This is the key for President Bush: compromise. For the sake of our national security, it is time for him to accept the multiple invitations of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to sit down and compromise on a bill that fully funds our troops and finally brings them home.