Another Republican visits Iraq; another Republican changes his mind

Rep. Christopher Shays says maybe Congress ought to be thinking about some kind of timetable after all.

Published August 25, 2006 2:06PM (EDT)

Another congressional Republican has gone to Iraq as a pro-war Bush supporter and come back saying it's time to talk about a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. Last time around, it was Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Minnesota Republican who once accused Democrats of going "wobbly" on Iraq but was shocked to discover on a visit there that "it's not safe to go anywhere outside of the Green Zone any part of the day." This time it's Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays, who -- 14 trips to Iraq later -- has gone from opposing a timetable to supporting one.

Sort of. While the Washington Post credits Shays with a seeing-the-light transformation, the Hartford Courant offers warnings that Shays' change of heart may be somewhat more subtle.

With even the president going a little grim on Iraq, pro-war Republicans facing challenges in November from more skeptical Democrats have to do something to keep themselves looking at least a little reasonable. (Well, most of them, anyway.) As analyst Stuart Rothenberg tells the Courant, that means we'll be seeing some Republicans "trying to move around a little without moving around" on Iraq. Shays, Rothenberg says, "seems to be wanting to send a message that he understands people are uncomfortable."

And indeed, while Shays has managed to get the word "timeline" out of his mouth without the usual GOP "cut and run" sneer, it's not at all clear that what he means by it is what most Americans think when they hear the word. Fifty-seven percent of the public thinks the U.S. should set a timeline for withdrawing all its troops from Iraq by a certain date, and 52 percent say the timeline should be a short one: 19 percent say to withdraw all U.S. troops immediately, and 33 percent say the president should bring them all home by next August. That's not what Shays is proposing; in fact, he's not really proposing anything at all. He's saying only that a timeline is "something we need to be willing to consider," and that the timeline he has in mind "is not a timeline of when the war ends."

"We can't have that kind of timeline," he tells the Courant. "But it is a timeline of when the bulk -- not all -- but the bulk of the heavy lifting is in the hands of the Iraqis."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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