Fort Riley They were for President Bush's strategy in Iraq before they were against it.
Throughout Congress - even among the members from Bush-friendly Kansas, home of the Army's Big Red One - opinions about the war are changing.
No longer are Democrats the only voices opposing an escalation in the size of the U.S. force in Iraq and calling for a change in course. Now many Republicans are joining the chorus, saying any increase is a foolish idea.
Fort Riley is at the epicenter of Bush's strategy for Iraq, training U.S. transition teams bound for Iraq and Afghanistan to expedite the development of armies in the countries so U.S. troops can come home. In February, the 4th Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division will deploy to Iraq, three days ahead of schedule, part of the Bush plan to increase U.S. forces by 21,500 in the coming weeks.
Later this summer, an aviation brigade and 2,500 soldiers depart for their own yearlong tour.
Soldiers and officers don't talk about why they are going; they view their jobs as completing the mission handed to them in 2003. But most agree victory can't be secured by the military alone.
And now many politicians, including GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, say it's time to increase diplomats in the region, not just soldiers.
"We must win in Iraq, and we will," Brownback said after a trip to Iraq and other nations in the Middle East. "But that victory will require more than bullets. It will require political arrangements inside Iraq and around Iraq to end the sectarian violence and move toward a peaceful future for the Iraqi people and stability for the region."
Eroding conservative base
David Rohde, a Duke University political scientist, said as Bush's plans are questioned, the president is having an experience common to lame-duck presidents, though Bush is "a little lamer than other lame ducks."
What's new, Rohde said, is how the war is causing Bush problems with his conservative base. He noted that Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel has been an outspoken critic, a sign of how much support for Bush's strategy has eroded.
"It's partly because the war has gone on so long, but even more because it doesn't seem to be working," Rohde said.
Hagel and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have abandoned Bush to side with the Democrats and their nonbinding resolution opposing any troop increase.
That contrasts with the praise for U.S. efforts and the policies in place after troops entered Iraq in 2003. Many in Congress are feeling pressured by voters, who spoke loud and clear last year that they wanted a change in Iraq policy and gave Democrats their first majority in 12 years.
Riding that wave was Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Democrat who upset five-term GOP Rep. Jim Ryun in the 2nd District.
Boyda painted Ryun as standing with Bush on too many issues, such as the war. Boyda promised to give the Iraq Study Group's recommendation a thorough review and saw their guidance as the way forward.
Since the election, others in the Kansas delegation have split with Bush, including Republican Rep. Jerry Moran and Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, both of whom supported the war.
White House officials have taken to shuttle diplomacy - going to the House and Senate - to keep Republican lawmakers in the fold.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Republican representing the Wichita area, met last week with Bush. He left the Oval Office reaffirming his support for the troops and the position that the Iraqi government must keep its end of the bargain. What Tiahrt doesn't want to see is Congress pulling purse strings, as it did during the Vietnam War.
But an aide said Tiahrt is reserving judgment on whether sending more troops is a good idea until after Bush's State of the Union address this week.
Doubts more persistent
Rohde said doubts always have existed about the war but have become more persistent because Americans are starting to see the conflict as a civil war, not part of the war against terrorism.
"It's the sectarian violence. There's way too much going on, on too large a scale, to just be insurgents, at least of the al-Qaida variety," he said. "It's the growing impression that we aren't being told the truth, or the administration doesn't know what the truth is, or they don't have a good handle on what's going on."
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has called the situation a civil war in Iraq, giving the odds that Bush's strategy of more troops and specific Iraqi goals will be successful as "less than even." He also said it means more U.S. casualties.
"What is not clear is what will happen if the Iraqi people turn against the U.S. forces, or the insurgents simply lie low and outwait the U.S. and government forces in what is fundamentally a long war of attrition," Cordesman wrote in a recent report.
The change in the Kansas delegation's attitude is striking because Bush carried the state twice, as has every Republican presidential candidate since 1964. Forts Riley and Leavenworth and McConnell Air Force Base create a large pro-military constituency that influences politics.
In 2004, Ryun defeated Boyda after making her prewar opposition to an invasion an issue. Bush won a second term as president after suggesting Democrat John Kerry had flip-flopped on the war, tangling Kerry in his own "I was for it before I was against it" rhetoric.
Now it's voters who've changed their minds, freeing politicians in Bush-friendly Kansas to oppose the president.