Another Republican Senator who has staunchly supported the Iraq war turns against it. Democratic leaders rightly question whether New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici’s votes will match his talk, and given what the next few weeks are going to look like on the Senate floor, we will soon know. It’s also true that he–like most of the other Republicans now publicly announcing a change of heart on the war–is up for re-election next year; plus, Domenici has been taking political heat over his role in the U.S. Attorney scandal. But I was struck by this quote late in the Washington Post story from Domenici, who is himself a father of eight:
He told of an exchange with one father, whom he quoted as saying: “I’m asking you if you couldn’t do a little extra, a little more, to see if you can’t get the troops back. Mine is dead, but I would surely hope that you would listen to me and try to get the rest of them back sooner.”
Liberal commenters to this blog have been skeptical of the Beltway line that September will be a crucial time in determining the course of Iraq policy. My theory has been that it may well be–but less because of any reports that will be coming out of the Pentagon than the fact that, on my calendar at least, September is the month that comes after August. And August is the time when Congress has its longest recess of the year. This is when lawmakers have to hear from their constituents face to face, in feed stores and American Legion halls and Rotary Club luncheons and when they go to the grocery store. If they come back to Washington with a lot of stories like Domenici’s, there may be nothing else that matters.
UPDATE: This from an interview of Domenici by Melissa Block on NPR’s “All Things Considered”:
MS. BLOCK: I gather that you’ve had some conversations with family members of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq.
SEN. DOMENICI: Every death of a New Mexican is followed by me and a phone call or calls to the relatives indicating my condolences, and it’s just amazing, you find such a strong willingness on the parts of the parents to acknowledge that their children really wanted to be in this war. Only of late do I find that parents – a couple parents saying, but I’m speaking for myself; now I want you to also try to hurry up, try to get on the side of where we can get out of there a little sooner. I have heard that a little bit more from the relatives of the dead military that I talk to every day.
MS. BLOCK: They are saying accelerate the timetable, in other words.
SEN. DOMENICI: They are saying, yes. They say our son wanted to be there; we know that; he died there; that’s what he wanted. Now I am speaking for myself, I would like you to hurry up, get them out of there quicker. That’s all I’m saying, and I’m not trying to make a big case out of it. That has just happened a couple of times and it was noticeable.
MS. BLOCK: The president said on the Fourth of July that the message should be more patience, more courage, and more sacrifice. What do you make of that?
SEN. DOMENICI: What do I make of that?
MS. BLOCK: Mm-hmm.
SEN. DOMENICI: He’s been saying, and he is a great – he is a wonderful man, but I think what he’s – those three words, they could be applied another way. I think I have been doing just that. The question is how much, how long. He kind of would say forever maybe or until things – till we win. I think I have a responsibility to exercise my prerogatives and to try to expedite what I have been discussing with you, and that is that the American troops would be in a different mode of operation six or eight months from now if we push hard enough and won’t be doing all of the fighting, holding all of the serious parts. This war will be in their hands; it will have to be in the other – in the hands of the other troops.