Salon editorial fellow J.J. Helland looks at the falling prospects for congressional Republicans.
It looks like some Republicans are concerned that the constant bad news coming out of Iraq could be a real drag on the party's prospects in the 2006 congressional midterm elections.
The New York Times reports that a confluence of factors -- the rising death toll of American soldiers, the still-unfinished Iraqi constitution and the antiwar protests sparked by the mother of a slain U.S. soldier, Cindy Sheehan -- has contributed to growing concern that the turmoil of the war has become a major political liability. Republicans point to the recent congressional race in Ohio in which Iraq war veteran and unabashed Bush critic Paul Hackett nearly defeated his Republican opponent in a highly conservative district -- turning what was forecast as a horse-whipping into a horse race.
The Times quotes Wayne Gilchrist, a Republican representative from Maryland, as saying he has "encountered a lot of Republicans grousing about the situation as a whole and how they have to respond to a lot of questions back home." Gilchrist added, "I have been to a lot of funerals." Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich felt compelled to address the issue. "Any effort to explain Iraq as 'We are on track and making progress' is nonsense," Gingrich stated.
And there are other indications that Republicans are right to be worried about their chances in 2006. The Washington Post reports that documents obtained by a nonprofit group called the National Security Archive reveal that a month before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the State Department warned the Pentagon in a secret memo of "serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance," and that "a failure to address short-term ... concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally." Sound familiar?
The Post also reports that other documents reveal more details of the Future of Iraq Project, the State Department's earlier attempts to coordinate "Iraqi exiles and U.S. experts in an attempt to plan for such things as a new banking system, a new military and a new constitution" for a postwar Iraq. Will Republicans pay for all of this at the polls next year? Plan on it.
J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York. MORE FROM J.J. Helland
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