Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush’s Plan for Iraq Runs Into Opposition in Congress

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 President Bush’s call to increase the American military commitment in Iraq ran into intense Congressional opposition Thursday from Democrats and from moderate Republicans who expressed profound skepticism.

A day after the president set out a new strategy for bringing stability to Iraq, the White House found few allies on either side of the aisle when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The reception she received suggested that Mr. Bush’s prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday had done little to build political support for sending additional troops to Baghdad.

“I think what occurred here today was fairly profound, in the sense that you heard 21 members, with one or two notable exceptions, expressing outright hostility, disagreement and or overwhelming concern with the president’s proposal,” the committee’s new Democratic chairman, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, said at the conclusion of Ms. Rice’s testimony.

Republicans were more supportive in the House, where the new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Armed Services Committee. But Democrats were scathing in their criticism, and in both the House and the Senate, Democratic leaders moved ahead with plans to oppose Mr. Bush’s plan through nonbinding resolutions.

While saying they do not plan any immediate effort to try to thwart the Bush plan by cutting off funds, some Democrats said they would continue to consider placing limitations on the administration when Congress considers a war spending measure later in the year.

Despite the decision by many members of his party to break with the White House over the troop increase, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he would use parliamentary tactics to try to thwart the Democratic effort to adopt the Senate resolution opposing the plan.

In Baghdad, Iraq’s Shiite-led government responded tepidly to Mr. Bush’s announcement that he would send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq to bolster the effort to curb rampant sectarian violence.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki failed to appear as scheduled at a news conference and did not make any public comment. [Page A15.]

Meanwhile, President Bush and his top cabinet officials spent Thursday traveling and testifying in support of his new Iraq strategy.

Early in the day, in an emotional ceremony at the White House, Mr. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to the family of Cpl. Jason Dunham, a marine from Scio, N.Y., who was killed in Iraq in 2004 when he threw himself on a grenade to save the rest of his unit. The president began crying during the ceremony. It was the second Medal of Honor proceeding to come out of the Iraq war.

Afterward, he traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., where he spoke to Army soldiers about the Iraq plan. He said his approach would not produce an immediate reduction in violence but represented “our best chance for success.” Some of the troops based at Fort Benning have already served twice in Iraq and are scheduled for a third deployment.

Ms. Rice appeared on morning news programs before joining Mr. Gates at a news conference in the White House. Both then moved to Capitol Hill for a first substantive showdown with the new Democratic majority and an encounter with the shifting politics of the war.

At the House Armed Services Committee hearing, it was standing-room-only, with some spectators sprawled on the floor and others spilling out the door.

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican who has been critical of the administration’s handling of the war, drew applause when he described the president’s proposals as a “dangerous foreign policy blunder,” and vowed to oppose them. Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat and a vigorous opponent of the war, spoke of it as “quite possibly the greatest foreign policy mistake in the history of our nation.”

Expressing doubt about whether Iraqis “are done killing each other,” Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, said, “Why put more American lives on the line now in the hope that this time they’ll make the difficult choice?”

Several Republicans questioned the Bush plan without rejecting it outright, but their call for greater detail made it clear they remained unconvinced. Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire agreed that approving new legislation in Iraq on sharing oil revenue would be central to weaving estranged Sunni Arabs into the political process, but he said no United States government official could describe the law to him.

“It’s the most remarkable law that no one has ever seen,” he said.

Away from the Congressional hearings, White House and Pentagon officials held a series of private meetings with lawmakers on Thursday in an attempt to blunt the criticism, especially from Republicans.

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new American commander in Iraq, waved off reporters as he shuttled between the offices of Republican Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. “Please, guys. Can I just make the rounds up here?” he said, declining to answer further questions.

During their testimony, Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice declined to specify a time limit on the troop increase and were cautious about predicting rapid improvements in security in Baghdad, where most of the additional troops will be positioned, saying progress is likely to come gradually.

“I think that we all know that the stakes in Iraq are enormous and that the consequences of failure would also be enormous not just for America and for Iraq, but for the entire region of the Middle East and indeed for the world,” Ms. Rice said.

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