It’s startling to read Bob Novak’s column this morning and realize that it could have been written by Paul Krugman. Novak’s most revealing graf involves a ‘scouting trip’ National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley made to the Hill:

The tone set by Hadley signaled that the White House did not understand that Lugar, in his fateful speech on the Senate floor the night of June 25, was sending a distress signal to Bush that a change in policy can be instituted only by the president and that it is imperative he act now.

That’s funny, because I heard the S.O.S. loud and clear. A quick tally of Republicans that have broken with the President (at least rhetorically) shows the numbers problem that Bush faces.

“When you count up the votes that we’ve lost and the votes we’re likely to lose over the next few weeks, it looks pretty grim,” said one senior official, who, like others involved in the discussions, would not speak on the record about internal White House deliberations.

The following Republicans have indicated that a change of course is needed and that they can’t support the status quo: Gordon Smith, Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe, John Warner, Dick Lugar, Pete Domenici, Judd Gregg, and Lamar Alexander. Norm Coleman, Arlen Specter, and Susan Collins have also expressed reservations. If the GOP can’t hold the defections from this group to under ten, they’ll be unable to filibuster any Iraq bills or amendments. But that will be difficult as Lugar and Warner are the most respected GOP Senators on military and foreign affairs.

The Republicans succeeded in the spring, but they may fail over the next three weeks.

Novak concludes his column:

As the first in a succession of Republican senators to be critical of Bush’s Iraq policy, Hagel feared the worst when he returned home to conservative Nebraska for Fourth of July parades. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by cheers and calls for the troops to be brought home. Perhaps a White House scouting trip into the American heartland might be worthwhile.

The ground has shifted. But we still have the same president.

The official told the paper, “The heart of darkness is the president. Nobody knows what he thinks, even the people who work for him.”

Perhaps they are waiting on an order to ‘exterminate the brutes’.

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