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WASHINGTON, D.C.--With President Bush returning here today after a downer trip to Asia (no concrete results in what President Hu diplomatically called meetings of mutual benefit and win-win results), the Republicans are presenting the face of a party deeply split over Iraq. The Bush administration's failure to come up with a serious plan to handle a flu pandemic is sure to bring more criticism. And GM's announced layoff of 30,000 is bad news coming as it does as the holidays begin.
On the one hand, there are the hardliners Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, brushing Bush aside while he was in Asia getting set for a much-photographed bike ride and then famously trying to escape reporters and running into a locked door. On the other, there is a group of Republicans senators, including the party's coming leaders, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, openly breaking with Bush over the issue of torture.
Left in the dust is Bush himself. Last week he and his spokespeople attacked Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha, a former Marine colonel and decorated Vietnam veteran who called for the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. But over the weekend, Bush backed off and praised Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, as an honorable man.
Yesterday on Meet the Press, Murtha stuck by his plea for getting the troops out of Iraq:
I said a year ago--and you remember me saying this--we can't win this militarily. The military has done everything they can do, so now it's up to the politicians, up to us in Congress. Only we can send people to war and it's up to us to find a way to solve this very difficult problem.
But Cheney, who has been secretly lobbying against restrictions on torture, renewed the administration's hard line in a speech on Monday. Cheney warned that al Qaeda is out to build an empire from Spain across North Africa through the Middle East to Indonesia.
Cheney said U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, and declared, "What is not legitimate, and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible, is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence."
The vice president did manage to call Murtha a patriot, but don't he shouldn't expect flowers from Murtha anytime soon.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld appeared on two Sunday talk shows to re-emphasize the government's tough policy in Iraq.
"The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder: 'Maybe all we have to do is wait and we'll win. We can't win militarily.' They know that. The battle is here in the United States," Rumsfeld said on Fox.
To Murtha's demand for a redeployment, Rumsfeld on CBS yesterday declared, There is no doubt in my mind that were we to pull out precipitously, the American people would be in greater danger than they are today.
Two months ago General George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said only one Iraqi battallion appeared capable of fighting in Iraq. But yesterday Rumsfeld hailed American success in training Iraqi security forces, placing their total number at 212,000. Some have argued fewer than 1,000 Iraqis can fight, but Rumsfeld said that was a red herring, adding, "The Iraqi security forces are out engaged in the fight." The defense chief said, "Some are in the lead, some are working with us in tandem, others are working with us where we have the lead, and that's perfectly understandable."