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Iraq War Strains Ties Between Bush, Republicans


For the past six years, President Bush has enjoyed strong support from Republicans in Congress for his domestic and foreign policy agendas. But divisions over the war in Iraq are beginning to strain that political alliance. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Mindful of public opinion polls that indicate most Americans have turned against the war in Iraq, some Republicans are taking a more confrontational tone in hopes of forcing the White House to change Iraq strategy in the months ahead.

"There is a sense here, certainly by the Democrats and growing among Republicans, that there has to be some progress, significant progress to sustain it beyond September," said Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Another moderate Republican, Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine, has joined with Democrats in sponsoring legislation that would link continued U.S. military support to specific economic and political benchmarks that must be met by the Iraqi government.

Snowe says a number of her fellow Republicans are concerned with the current direction of the president's Iraq strategy.

"I think many of them are deeply frustrated, yes, yes. Absolutely, no question, and troubled by the current direction and the lack of results and the failure of the Iraqi government to bring about progress," added Snowe.

But some of the Republican concerns go beyond Iraq.

Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is considering a run for president next year. But Hagel told the CBS program Face the Nation that he has become so disenchanted with his party that he might be open to running as an independent candidate for the White House.

"The president may find himself standing alone sometime this fall, where Republicans will start to move away and you are starting to see trap doors and exit signs already with a number of Republicans. I am not happy with the Republican Party today," he said. "It has drifted from the party of Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan, the party that I joined. It is not the same party."

Similar complaints come from longtime Republican political strategist Victor Gold. Gold has written a new book that blames neoconservative foreign policy strategists and social conservative activists for leading the Republican Party astray.

Gold's book is entitled, Invasion of the Party Snatchers, How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP (Republican Party).

"First, I say, the Republican Party has to die and be reborn. [We need] a Republican Party that renders unto Caesar and unto God, but on separate days of the week. A Republican Party that sees America as a beacon, not the policeman for the world. A Republican Party that sees family values as something for the family, not the state, to define," he said.

Eleven moderate House Republicans recently met with President Bush in what they later described as a candid assessment of the uneasiness many Republicans feel over the political fallout from the Iraq war.

The president described the encounter as a good exchange, but said Republicans and Democrats need to give his new security plan for Iraq more time to work.

"I spent time talking with them about what it meant to fail and what it means when we succeed. They expressed their opinions. They are obviously concerned about the Iraq war, but so are a lot of other people," said Mr. Bush.

Democrats and their supporters are trying to exploit the strains between the president and his fellow Republicans for their own political gain.

"There is barely a third of the country that continue to support his policies there. Now we are seeing the president being further and further isolated from his own party," said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for a pro-Democratic group called Americans United for Change.

Political analyst Craig Crawford says some Republicans are getting nervous that sticking with the president on Iraq could cost them the White House and their own seats in Congress in 2008.

"Yes, there is great fear among Republicans about the next election. And it is not a hypothetical [concern]. They saw it in the [congressional] mid-term election last year. They lost control of the House and Senate, largely over their alignment with President Bush," said Crawford.

During a recent debate among Republican presidential contenders in California, most of the 10 candidates invoked the name of former President Ronald Reagan much more often than President Bush.

"While it was interesting that the candidates did not criticize President Bush, they certainly did not embrace him. The Republican candidates in this electoral cycle are sort of feeling rather awkward." said Commentator David Aikman, who is a regular guest on VOA's Issues in the News program.

Analyst Craig Crawford says he expects the strains between President Bush and Republicans in Congress to continue to play out through the final year and a half of the president's term.

"So they face a bit of a dilemma. They want distance from the president," he said. "They want to change some of his policies. But at the same time, if they participate in bringing him down and scuttling his White House that does not help them either. So they are in a bit of a straightjacket on this."

Complicating Republican efforts to stand by the president are Mr. Bush's low public approval ratings. A recent Newsweek magazine poll found the president's approval rating at an all time low of 28 percent.

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