The Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suffered a public attack of candor this week, when he explained to The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza that his GOP colleagues 1) attributed their 2006 election defeats to voters' dislike of the United States' unsuccessful invasion and occupation of Iraq and 2) GOP apprehension at the prospect of a 2008 campaign dominated by Iraq: "I think the Democrats would like to have another election on Iraq and Republicans would like to avoid it."
Republican ranks are suddenly crowded with Nervous Nellies who used to be swaggering Armchair Commandos, talking about how "we" had to stand up to the enemy — as long as it did not interfere with more and bigger tax cuts for their contributors and imposed no home-front inconveniences or, heaven forbid, civilian sacrifice.
Consider the switch made by House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, who only a few days earlier made crystal clear in House debate his support of the expanded U.S. military occupation of Iraq: "Every drop of blood that has been spilt in defense of liberty and freedom, from the American Revolution to this very moment, is for nothing if we are unwilling to stand up and fight this threat. ... Right now we are fighting them in Iraq. ... If we leave, they will just follow us home."
Contrast those Nathan Hale-ish words with Boehner's revisionism, this week, following release of a Newsweek poll showing President Bush's favorable job rating at a new low of 28 percent: "By the time we get to September, October, (House) members are going to want to know how well this (U.S. troop buildup) is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B."
Wait a minute, Mr. Republican. There was no " Plan B" at Bunker Hill or Gettysburg or Belleau Wood. Don't tell me our formerly red-white-and-blue flag-wavers are turning an ugly shade of lily-livered yellow just because there are barely 16 months left until the 2008 presidential election.
Even if those pantywaists and sissies on Capitol Hill are terrified, at least we have our stalwart Vice President "Stonewall" Cheney. Listen to his words to a recent Washington gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): "The only way (al-Qaida) can win is we lose our nerve and abandon our mission."
But do not worry, because, according to the personal testimony of Dick (Count 'em, FIVE Draft Deferments) Cheney, "We're the kind of country that fights for freedom." You must understand that the VP would have been there himself in the foxholes of Vietnam, but as he explained to The Washington Post, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." Most of us did not know in the '50s and '60s that we had available the option of "other priorities."
Those Republican Nervous Nellies will get little comfort from commander in chief George W. Bush, who compares the current U.S. war to World War II — just ouch-less, painless and costless for all those Americans who have not volunteered to fight it. Here is how Bush has repeatedly defined the stakes: "If America pulls out of Iraq before the Iraqis can defend themselves, the terrorists will follow us here, home ... so we will stay, we will fight, and we will win in Iraq."
Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain took it a step further on April 27 in Columbia, S.C.: "If we leave Iraq, there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home."
President Bush may have sincerely meant every word when he told the graduating class at the Air Force Academy that "success in this struggle is our only option. This is the great challenge of our time, the storm in which we fly."
But we and he learned this week that by September — without some miraculous improvement on the ground in Baghdad — Bush will be increasingly flying alone, without his Republican squadron, who will be searching desperately for a plausible "Plan B."
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.