Is Bush Losing His War Allies?

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

President Bush

It's happening almost every day now: Congressional Republicans signaling in public the limits of their patience with the war in Iraq — and the Bush Administration's handling of it.

The Senate's number two Republican, Trent Lott, kicked off this week's round, commenting on Monday that, "I do think this fall we have to see some significant changes on the ground, in Baghdad and other areas." Lott did not say what might happen if those changes don't materialize. But he repeated his line Tuesday on MSNBC's Hardball.

On Wednesday, 11 moderate House members trooped to the White House to give what they said afterward was an unvarnished rendering of their impatience to the President himself. They told Bush that they'd stick with him for now against the Democrats' attempts to limit war funds to short installments but impressed on him their concern about diminishing popular support for the war among Republican voters.

And then Thursday morning, on the Senate floor, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander delivered a speech in which he promised to introduce legislation in a few weeks that would more or less make the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group proposals of last December (which emphasized the training of Iraqi forces at the core of the U.S. military mission in Iraq) as "the basis for future U.S. strategy in Iraq." Alexander's measure is not a resolution; if passed, it would go to the President's desk for his signature — or veto.

The once sturdy Republican support for the war isn't giving away overnight. But, six months after the pasting at the polls in November, the foundations are now visibly and audibly cracking. Once that begins, it is very difficult to halt.

Alexander had been pressing the White House in speeches for months to adopt the Baker-Hamilton proposals as its own guide, its own core strategy, for extricating itself from Iraq. The bipartisan commission made more than 70 recommendations to step up diplomacy and move the U.S. toward a phased withdrawal from Iraq.

The White House greeted the Commission's report in December with something like gritted teeth — and then proceeded to largely ignore it. More recently, the Bush team has quietly picked up on some of the Commission's most controversial diplomatic ideas, such as talking to Syria and Iran. Alexander and Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar see their measure as a way to both help the White House find a path out of the wilderness and build bipartisan support for its trouble.

The daily erosion in Republican support is not about the money — not yet, anyway. It's about the strategy. As Alexander told TIME: "We need a political solution here in Washington." Salazar and Alexander will introduce their measure after the messy matter of the supplemental spending bill is resolved.