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U.S. intelligence agencies delivered a negative assessment of the Iraqi government, as the debate over when to start withdrawing troops surged. Analysts Mark Shields and Rich Lowry discuss the political events of the week.
But for now, we're going to go to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off tonight.
I will not ask you to ask each other side's on this, but we are — we're sorry about the technical problems. We'll come back to that.
Mark, how important a development was Senator Warner's 5,000 troops out by Christmas announcement yesterday?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:
Perhaps less important for what was said than for who said it. I mean, John Warner, his resume is history. It's a man who was an enlisted man in World War II in the Navy, an officer in the Marine Corps in Korea, a secretary of the Navy, most recent chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a strong supporter of the president.
And his, while not a dramatic challenge, or I should say a threat to the White House, it was a direct challenge to the White House, and I think, in that sense, it cannot be dismissed lightly.
Do you agree it was a direct challenge, Rich?
RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review:
Well, I'm going to dismiss it lightly, Mark. I hope you're not offended. I don't think it was particularly important. One, he's already shown he's uncomfortable with the president's direction on this war. He cosponsored legislation with Dick Lugar back just in June or July, you know, advocating a change of course.
And I think the real key thing here, the thing to keep — the ball that we need to keep our eyes on is the only thing that's going to force President Bush's hand is if Congress passes a law mandating a date for withdrawal or cuts off funds. And that's not going to happen unless 10 or 12 Republican senators go there.
And what was most significant about Warner's comments to me, he didn't go there. And earlier this year, it seemed as though it was quite possible a bunch of Republicans would be going there. And if you looked at Warner's interview on your air last night with Judy Woodruff, he kept on saying, "It's up to the president in consultation with the generals." And as long as that's what Republican moderates who are wavering on the war are saying, President Bush is going to be able to continue to wage the war the way he likes.
What John Warner is talking about — which is understood by virtually everybody in the military and who cares about the military — and that is that, by early 2008, we are going to be forced to withdraw from Iraq, cut back our troops, for the two following reasons: the strain on the Army itself, which is reaching the breaking point, acknowledged by just about everybody in a position of authority; and, secondly, the troop rotation schedule that the Army itself has laid down.
We don't have the troops to stay there, so we're going to withdraw. And the question — Rick puts his finger right on it. I think this whole debate, Jim, is a question of who passes legislation or if there is legislation passed.
This is a fight and a debate, and it's going to be for the next three months between the two parties, over who lost Iraq. That's what the debate is. And the predicate being laid down by the president and his supporters is, "We were just on the cusp of victory. We were just there."
And nobody I know in a rational condition believes the United States is going to have any kind of a military victory in Iraq. There's not going to be any surrender, capitulation by the other side saying, "You were right, we were wrong. You were strong, we were weak." That's not going to happen.
And so the idea is going to be, "We were on the cusp of victory and the rug was pulled out from under us by these willy-nilly, weak-kneed, nervous Nellies back home, namely Democrats, who let down our troops."
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