Democrats are responding to George W. Bush's speech tonight in the way you'd probably expect. Minutes after Bush stopped talking, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama both said that, instead of sending more troops to Iraq, the United States should be starting a phased withdrawal of the troops who are already there. Durbin said that Iraqis have to understand that "every time they call 9-1-1, we're not going to send 20,000 more American soldiers." Obama said that, by sending more troops now, Bush is giving up the only real source of leverage America has with Iraqis without forcing any actual concessions from them first.
Democratic congressional leaders issued a joint response to the president's speech. In it, they said that the Iraqis "will not take the necessary steps to achieve a political resolution to the sectarian problems in their country until they understand that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended. Escalating our military involvement in Iraq sends precisely the wrong message, and we oppose it."
Hillary Clinton chimed in with a statement saying that she "cannot support" the president's "proposed escalation of the war in Iraq." "As our commanders have said repeatedly, Iraq requires a political solution, not a purely military one, and we did not hear such a proposed solution tonight," Clinton said.
The president has heard this sort of criticism from Democrats before. What's different this time: Having won control of the House and the Senate, the Democrats actually have the ability to do more than just criticize the president's plan. And to a degree we haven't seen in the last six years, Republicans in Washington are joining Democrats in arguing that Bush is taking the wrong approach in Iraq.
Hours before Bush delivered his speech tonight, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman distanced himself from it by saying that the president's new plan for Iraq would do nothing but "create more targets" for insurgents bent on killing Americans. "A troop surge in Baghdad would put more American troops at risk to address a problem that is not a military problem," Coleman said from the Senate floor.
Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel called Bush's troop-escalation plan "a dangerously wrongheaded strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost."
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback was nearly as blunt. "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer," he said from Baghdad, where he's just met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials. Brownback said he came away from those meetings with much the same view Obama expressed tonight: "The United States should not increase its involvement until Sunnis and Shi'a are more willing to cooperate with each other instead of shooting at each other."
Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith said that Bush is throwing another "Hail Mary" pass -- and that he's not sure that Iraqi security forces will be there to catch it. It's time for Iraqis, not Americans, to take responsibility for the security of Baghdad, he said.
Virginia Sen. John Warner was noncommittal both before and after Bush spoke. He said tonight, as he did Tuesday, that Bush's speech is just the first step in a process. The president has taken the time to review the situation in Iraq, Warner said. Now that Bush has finished that process and unveiled a plan, Warner said it's time for Congress to give a "respectful, objective analysis" of what Bush is proposing. He described the challenge ahead as the toughest the U.S. Senate has faced in his two decades there.
And even some of those who support Bush's plan are doing so in a decidedly lukewarm way. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told Larry King tonight that Bush's "new strategy might fail" just like the old one did, but that it's probably the best that can be made of the situation in which we now find ourselves. Sen. Mitch McConnell said he'll support Bush's new plan "enthusiastically," but he didn't sound very enthusiastic about it in an interview with Anderson Cooper. "It's his last chance," he said, before turning to the only good spin he had to offer: There hasn't been another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the war began.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the most vocal proponent outside of the White House and the American Enterprise Institute of a troop surge, said he thought Bush delivered an "excellent" speech. But McCain said that the Bush plan won't "guarantee success" in Iraq. And when Larry King asked McCain whether his own support for sending more troops to Iraq might hurt him politically, the senator's gloomy expression turned even a little more dour: "I don't know what's going to happen a year from now," he said, "but I can tell you that I would much rather lose a campaign than a war."