Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Senators eye rejection of Bush war plan

WASHINGTON - Democrats took the first step toward a wartime repudiation of President Bush on Wednesday, convening a Senate committee to endorse legislation declaring that the deployment of additional troops to Iraq is "not in the national interest."

"We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska, the only Republican on the committee to announce support for the measure.

Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), D-Del., the panel's chairman, said the legislation is "not an attempt to embarrass the president. ... It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq."

Less than one month after taking control of Congress, there was little doubt Democrats had the votes to prevail. They hold 11 seats on the committee, to 10 for Republicans.

The full Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the measure next week, although Biden has said he is willing to negotiate changes in hopes of attracting support from more Republicans.

Even Republicans opposed to the measure expressed unease with the revised policy involving a war that has lasted nearly four years, claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and helped Democrats win control of Congress in last fall's elections.

"I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed," said Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record) of Indiana, senior Republican on the committee.

But he also said he would vote against the measure. "It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modification of our Iraq policy."
"The president is deeply invested in this plan, and the deployments ... have already begun," Lugar added.

He suggested a more forceful role for Congress, and said lawmakers must ensure the administration is "planning for contingencies, including the failure of the Iraqi government to reach compromises and the persistence of violence despite U.S. and Iraqi government efforts."

Hagel's remarks were among the most impassioned of the day.

"There is no strategy," he said of the Bush administration's war management.
"This is a pingpong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans; they're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."

A Vietnam veteran, he fairly lectured fellow senators not to duck a painful debate about a war that has grown increasingly unpopular as it has gone on. "No president of the United States can sustain a foreign policy or a war policy without the sustained support of the American people," Hagel said.

At least eight other Republican senators say they now back legislative proposals registering objections to Bush's decision to boost U.S. military strength in Iraq by 21,500 troops.

The growing list — which includes Sens. Gordon Smith (news, bio, voting record), George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) and Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record) — has emboldened Democrats, who are pushing for a vote in the full Senate by next week to rebuke the president's Iraq policy.
In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Bush urged skeptical members of Congress to give the plan a chance to work.

Many lawmakers remained reluctant.

"I wonder whether the clock has already run out," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine. She said she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived "not as liberators but as occupiers."

Bush did get a word of support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls.

"I believe we should give the president the support to do this. I want us to be successful in Iraq," he said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "I know how important it is to the overall war on terror. Success in Iraq means a more peaceful world for America, it means a victory against terrorists. Failure in Iraq means a big defeat against terrorists and the war on terror is going to be tougher for us."

But Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill., appearing on the same show, said, "I think all of us are talking about a phased redeployment which would leave American troops in the region to send a strong message, not only to the Iraqi government that we want to help them, but also to neighbors, like Iran, that we're not abandoning the field."

The nonbinding resolution being voted on Wednesday by the Foreign Relations Committee was drafted by Biden and Hagel, along with Sens. Olympia Snowe (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine, and Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich.

Some Republicans worried that it would undermine Bush's diplomatic efforts on Iraq. "The worst thing we can do as a Congress is to undercut the president internationally," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, said Wednesday on CNN.

GOP defections for Bush's Iraq policy spell trouble for an administration that has come to rely on congressional Republicans to champion its agenda. While many Bush loyalists remain, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., other lawmakers say the president cannot continue down a path the public does not support.

White House officials "realize you can't conduct a war with one party for it and one against it, and we're getting in that type of position," said Brownback, R-Kan. "And that is not a durable position."


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