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Chambliss prescient or pandering?

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POSTED: May 29, 2007 5:02 a.m.
If they gave politicians awards for swimming against the national tide, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss would win a gold medal.
As a politician who faces re-election next year, Chambliss also deserves some kind of citation for fearlessness, not to mention loyalty to a president whose national popularity appears to decline daily.
Just back from a Senate Intelligence Committee fact-finding trip in Iraq, Chambliss declared last week, “Every time I go over (to Iraq), the improvements in the conditions are truly amazing. It is very encouraging for me to see the progress.”
Georgia’s senior senator went on to praise President Bush’s surge strategy to quell the Iraq insurgency and express overall optimism that the United States is doing well in Iraq. He did concede we won’t know for sure how well the surge has worked until next September when the first official progress reports are due.
On the same day Sen. Chambliss delivered his glowing evaluation, the following events occurred:
• Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a Republican moderate on the same trip with Chambliss, returned to deliver a pessimistic report on the war and introduce legislation to require troop redeployment if the Iraq government fails to meet specific benchmarks.
“The good news is mixed. The bad news is downright troubling,” Snowe said.
• Vice President Dick Cheney, the nation’s most ardent booster of the war, also returned from Iraq, where he told officials they must shape up — and skip a prolonged parliamentary vacation  — if they ever hope to end hostilities and continue to receive American support. Just before the vice president arrived, a couple of mortar rounds exploded near Cheney’s destination in the so-called safe Green Zone of Bagdad.
• A group of 11 House Republicans met with President Bush to tell him the increasingly unpopular Iraq war is spoiling their re-election chances. The White House meeting was compared to the historic confrontation of President Richard Nixon by Sens. Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott who told him his presidency had failed.
• The Pentagon released detailed reports showing the United States suffered some of its heaviest causalities of the war in Iraq during April.
• Three retired U.S. Army generals, who had served in Iraq, began airing TV commercials denouncing the Bush Iraq policy.
• And President Bush’s unfavorable poll numbers nearly tied President Jimmy Carter’s low popularity scores at the end of the Carter administration.
Chambliss is on one of two paths. Either he is about to be recognized as a gifted seer who detects what few others are able to fathom — American success in the Middle East. Or our senator is a fellow completely out of touch with reality.
In any event, Chambliss is a savvy politician who understands his constituents. So he must feel safe in continuing to heap unrestrained praise on the Bush plan for Iraq.
To be sure, Georgia is one of the few states in which Bush’s popularity has not fallen through the floor. The Peach State has maintained a strong military presence in the Middle East since the outset of the war in that region.
Many Georgians perceive a failure to support Bush’s policies as a failure to support our troops. In parts of the country, the Bush-troops connection has all but vanished.
Several national observers believe Democrats will increase their majority margins in Congress in 2008 because of Bush’s policies and a widening belief W.’s presidency has failed.
In this reddest of the red states, however, Chambliss seems totally secure.
He is expected to have no primary opposition next year. Among Democrats, only DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones has announced he will challenge the one-term senator.
Hardly anyone gives Jones much chance of victory, but his anticipated candidacy has chilled the ambitions of several white Democrats. Understandably, they believe they would have little chance of winning the nomination against a well-known African-American in a primary dominated by black voters.
Chambliss’ fearlessness serves as a dramatic reminder of how weak and impotent the once all-powerful Democrats have become in Georgia. In describing American “success” in Iraq, Chambliss is virtually thumbing his nose and daring the opposition party to recruit a genuine challenger.
The only Democrat who might give Chambliss trouble is Congressman Jim Marshall of Macon, who has already ruled out a Senate bid. Besides, Marshall may be more hawkish on the Iraq war than even Chambliss, if such is possible.
Footnote: Jim Whitehead, the apparent frontrunner in the special Congressional race in Northeast Georgia, made headlines recently for saying the war in Iraq is not an important issue to Georgians. Republican Whitehead’s assessment may be accurate but it came at an unfortunate time —  shortly after two members of the Class of 2005 at Franklin County High School, which is in the district, were killed in Iraq.

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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