Gizzi on Politics: GOP Reaction to Iraq Report

“Independent Democrat” Lieberman Toughest Against

Dumped by his party in a primary last year and nonetheless re-elected on an independent ballot line, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman last week demonstrated his “maverick” streak by denouncing the recent leftist broadsides against General David Petraeus, whose long-awaited congressional testimony on Iraq was seen on national television today.

In unusually strong language, self-styled “independent Democrat” Lieberman blasted the attacks from on Petraeus in today’s New York Times as “an outrageous and despicable act of slander.”  The 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president went on to call on Members of both parties in Congress to condemn, calling it their “solemn responsibility.”

“It has been widely reported that has worked closely over the past months with many members of the Democratic Party in coordinating their efforts to derail the strategy that Gen. Petraeus has been leading in Iraq,” declared Lieberman, who was defeated in the Senate primary in Connecticut by anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont but went on to win a fourth term in the fall as an independent, “[W]hen partisan personal attacks which have already divided and weakened our nation in many ways are directed at a non-partisan, non-political commander like General Petraeus, everyone has a responsibility to shout ‘Stop. Enough.’"

Lieberman’s no-nonsense strike against, which ran a  full-page ad in today’s Times headlined: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”, stood in strong contrast to the milder distancing from the group of Democratic colleagues he still caucuses with.  Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), for example, would only call the ad an “unnecessary distraction,” but still said that Democrats would focus on “Petraeus executing a mismanaged mission.”  Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, simply called the ad “over the top” and said  “a lot of legitimate accountability that needs to be achieved…ought to be done without casting any aspersions on anyone’s character or motives.”

Rep. Brian Baird (D.-Wash), a target for changing his views from opposing to supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq, was also reportedly critical of the left-wing group but Baird spokeswoman Karen Clayton was unavailable when I tried to reach her for a statement. head Eli Pariser said his group stood by the ad completely.

I spoke to the offices of several noted moderate congressional Democrats who would not go anywhere near even criticizing the group that receives major donations from prominent donars to Democratic candidates and causes.  When I asked Julie Edwards, spokeswoman for Nebraska’s Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 52%), if he would repudiate the Petraeus ad, she replied: “I don’t have any comment, but will call you if it changes [she didn’t call].” Kevin Parker, who handles military issues for Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi (lifetime ACU rating: 69%), said of his boss’s position on the ad: “He doesn’t normally react to that kind of stuff — some ad from an organization.”

But Lieberman did, and came out swinging. In striking contrast to the milder rebukes from Reid and Kerry, the Nutmeg State senator called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Peolosi “to denounce in no uncertain terms for its vile attack on Gen. Petraeus.  General Petraeus deserves no less.”

GOP Grass Roots Standing With Bush on Iraq, Say State Chairmen

In the wake of Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony before Congress on Iraq, Republican party leaders from New England to Michigan to Colorado were almost unanimous:  their troops in the grass roots are solidly behind U.S. troops in Iraq and behind the President on the most controversial of all issues.

"We heard today from our commanders on the ground that the surge is producing positive results and sectarian violence in Iraq is down,” Michigan State Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis said after the nationally televised testimony by Petraeus, “It is good news for our men and women serving in harm’s way and even better news for the people of Iraq.”

As for whether public opinion among Michigan Republicans is behind Bush and the troop surge that Petraeus addressed today, Anuzis — whose state recently voted to hold its presidential primary in January — said: “Ordinary  Michiganians know the best people to trust are our military commanders on the ground and not Washington politicians.”

Mississippi State GOP Chairmen Jim Herring agreed, and told me today he has “been highly impressed with Gen. Petraeus and offended by the efforts to discredit him.”

As what Republican volunteers in the Magnolia State think of the Bush policy in Iraq, Herring, a retired U.S. Army reservist and legal officer, said: “They don’t want to see us cut and run.  They don’t want a bloodbath, like there was in Vietnam after we left.  They agree with Sen. McCain that we have to bring honor and stability to the Middle East.”

Like Herring, recently elected Virginia Republican Chairman John Hager denounced Moveon.Org and its ad in today’s New York Times attacking Petraeus.  As for what Virginia Republicans think of the U.S. effort in Iraq, Hager said: “It’s a mixed bag.  When you’re in Northern Virginia, you are affected by the liberal media in Washington so there is opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq.  But as you moved south toward Virginia Beach and then down the Shenandoah Valley, it’s a total switch.  And there’s a strong military presence there.”

South Carolina GOP Chairman Kaeton Dawson, whose state will host a presidential debate January 10th nine days before its primary (“the Hail Mary pass for some candidates,” he called it) told me “Republicans here trust George W. Bush and the way he’s handling Iraq and the war on terrorism.  When you ask whether it’s been luck or presidential policy that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11, audiences cheer.”

Dawson spoke to me shortly after coming from a packed rally for Fred Thompson, where the newest of Republican candidates, he recalled, “had his biggest applause when he took on and said America doesn’t have to apologize to anyone.”  (Dawson is strictly neutral in the presidential race)

“Securing our nation and fighting terrorism — I don’t know how Republicans can lose running on those issues!” concluded Dawson.

Colorado State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams also weighed in strongly, saying “party activists here say that the reinforcement of troops is having a positive impact on Iraq.  And I’m watching Democrats who had been declaring military failure now softening that line.  They now say we’re failing on the political front.  Republicans here don’t throw in with the voices of retreat.”

Wadhams predicted that Iraq would work to the advantage of likely Repubican nominee Bob Schaefer in next year’s Senate race because, in his words, [Democratic Rep. and likely Senate nominee] Mark Udall has no coherent stand on Iraq.”

Even in New England, there was positive vocalizing about the Iraq troop surge by GOP chieftains.  From New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation primary, State Chairman Fergus Cullen said “Republicans here generally support what we’re doing in Iraq and a Republican running in a primary for president backing the President on Iraq has a net positive.  But in a general election, he might take a more cautious position.”

Connecticut State GOP Chairman Chris Healy told me there was “Overwhelming majority support [among Republicans] for what the troops are doing. They have been frustrated with many of the mistakes and missed opportunities after Saddam was toppled. Disbanding the army in particular was a mistake but Republicans understand that this is a fight against terror and worthwhile.

General Petraeus’a report lays out a pretty clear picture — solid progress on security and enrollment of Sunni and Shiiite forces to our side colored by a realization that Iran and al Qaeda will continue to be a presence. But, overall, the situation is improving and the nation should be encouraged and grateful. Sadly, many Congressional Democrats don’t want to hear this news and are demeaning this efffort by imploring a strategy worthy of Neville Chamberlain. This is a war of civilizations and we better face up to it or realize the consequences of inacton or indifference."