As the most sensible moderate member of the Senate Republican Caucus, Maine's Olympia Snowe should have been on board long ago for a strict timeline to bring the troops home from the senseless war in Iraq.Instead, for months, she played the current Republican game of complaining bitterly about the war while eschewing the tough votes to bring it to a conclusion. As recently as May, when Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, were pushing the Senate to endorse a genuine exit strategy, Snowe joined centrist Senator Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, in proposing a murky plan that was designed to give the Iraq government more time to meet benchmarks before getting serious about a withdrawal strategy.
Now, however, as it becomes clear that benchmarks aren't being met and that President Bush's "surge" strategy is only getting more Americans and Iraqis killed, Snowe has finally come around to the place where she should have been all along.
With a Senate vote expected next week on a proposal by Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island to begin a troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days and to complete the extraction by next April, Snowe is signaling that she plans to vote with the vast majority of Senate Democrats in support of the plan.
"We … are not prepared to make an indefinite open-ended commitment to the Iraqis until they decide when they're going to make their political decisions," Snowe said at the opening of the Senate debate on the Levin-Reed amendment. "Our men and women are making the military sacrifice; they're not prepared to make the political sacrifice."
Despite personal lobbying yesterday from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who urged Snowe to wait until September before rejecting Bush's approach policy, the senator says "the tide has turned."
Speaking of the Bush administration, which has generally had her support in key votes on the war, Snowe said "They obviously would prefer that we wait until September, but my view is that we should send a very strong message now."
Snowe's move is important.
While a number of key Republicans – including former Senate Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar of Indiana – have expressed dismay at the Bush administration's determination to maintain the failed occupation of Iraq, few of them have clearly signed on with the Levin-Reed plan.
Now that Snowe has done so, other Republicans who like to portray themselves as more centrist and sensible than their party's leadership – including Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, both of whom are up for reelection in 2008 along with Snowe's Maine colleague Susan Collins – will be under significantly greater pressure to back the amendment.
So, too, will centrist Democrats, like Bayh, who have been cautious about getting too specific with a timeline.
Snowe's move matters a good deal – even if it did come a good deal too late.
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