Published September 12, 2005
WASHINGTON – When President Bush (search) meets with his Iraqi counterpart at the White House on Tuesday, the administration and its supporters are sure to extol the virtues and the wisdom of the American role in rebuilding Iraq.
But there's sure to be some head shaking and criticism as well, and this time from some unexpected corners.
Staunch supporters of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq have become more vocal and public with their concern over the way things are going there, prompting observers to suggest that even Republicans are getting nervous.
"The Administration is now starting to lose its base on the war, and if this continues, it will come under increasing pressure to accelerate our withdrawal," said Larry Diamond (search), senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority (search) in Iraq. He recently penned the book, "Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq."
"I have been struck that so many of the intellectual, neo-conservative supporters of the war have been quite critical of the Bush administration's management, or mismanagement, of the post-war situation in Iraq, both politically and militarily," Diamond told FOXNews.com.
Andrew Bacevich (search), a Vietnam veteran and professor of international relations at Boston University, said he sees a marked shift.
"There are people who view themselves on the Right, who were enthusiastic supporters of the war, who are now greatly concerned that the Bush administration or more in particular, the military, is losing its focus, its heart, and isn't fully committed," Bacevich said. "I think Bill Kristol (search) would be a good example of that."
Kristol, a FOX News contributor and editor of the Weekly Standard, advocated toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But in the Aug. 15 edition of the magazine, Kristol accuses Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of "weakness and defeatism," for lowering the standards for success in Iraq and "emboldening" the enemy through his commanders' suggestion that U.S troops may come home as early as next spring if Iraqi forces are trained to secure the country in that time.
He also continues to blame Rumsfeld for not putting more U.S troops into Iraq at the start.
"The president knows we have to win this war. If some of his subordinates are trying to find ways to escape from it, he needs to assert control over them, overrule them or replace them," Kristol wrote. "What the president needs to do now is tell the Pentagon to stop talking about (and planning for) withdrawal, and make sure they are planning for victory."
President Bush has tamped down ideas of a spring withdrawal and has said repeatedly there will be no exit timetable. "As Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down," he said last month from his Crawford, Texas, ranch. "The important thing for Americans to know is that we are making progress."
Some of his supporters are now saying a more realistic view is necessary.
Ret. Col. David Hunt (search), a FOX News contributor, expressed frustration with how the administration is handling the war.
"This has been a terribly conducted war. It's been 28 months of this – it's time to get upset," he said. "We're getting shot at by people who put bombs in dead dogs. We’re not fighting it right."
Hunt said more troops are needed on Iraq's borders, but unlike Kristol, he advocates slimming down the force by 100,000 and putting in small special operations teams to counter the insurgency.
Ret. Col. Gary Anderson (search), another administration supporter, said, "I'm absolutely in agreement with the president" on not setting timetables for withdrawal, but he is also disappointed that clearer "milestones for success" haven't been established, particularly with regard to when the United States can start handing over security to the Iraqi forces.
"I do think there is some tension there, I think there is a need to hear from the field that at this point in time, we have stood up this many soldiers, and the reluctance to do that is causing some people to have some problems," he said.
"I think there are definite cracks" in the president's Republican support, said Peter Beinart (search), editor of The New Republic magazine, which has supported the invasion of Iraq from the beginning.
He said that aside from Republicans who have always been war critics, like Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, other Republicans have been more vocal about needing clarification on the war strategy and a better explanation to the American public.
‘‘Any effort to explain Iraq as ‘We are on track and making progress' is nonsense,'' former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (search) told the New York Times recently. "The daily and weekly casualties leave people feeling that things aren't going well.''
In July, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (search), R-Md., a Vietnam War veteran who has supported the war in Iraq, became the fourth Republican to sign on to a bipartisan resolution urging the president to lay out a clear exit strategy, and has said publicly he's concerned about the effect of public opinion on congressional Republicans in 2006.
But David Winston (search), Republican pollster, cautioned against interpreting concern over war strategy as skittishness from the President's base and a lack of support for war overall.
"There is still support for this war," Winston said. What people are looking for from the President, he added, are more specifics and measures for success. "There is more demand for that right now."
Bush still has big guns to bolster his position, including the entire Republican leadership in Congress. Appearing on FOX News Sunday on August 14, Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., warned of any whiff of troop withdrawal.
"I've got an idea for our Pentagon planners," he said. "The day I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmored car down the highway to the Green Zone is the day I'll start considering withdrawal from Iraq."
But Hunt told FOXNews.com that he believes "you will start seeing guys come out of Iraq before the 2006 elections" – and he isn't the only one.
"The conventional wisdom is the Republicans will have to reduce the force before the 2006 elections," said Harold Meyerson (search), editor-at-large for the liberal American Prospect magazine. He did not support the Iraq invasion.
"There are certainly a lot of leaks inside and outside the Pentagon and administration suggesting that is going to happen," said Beinart. "I wouldn't be surprised."