Bi­den to fight troop surge, sets hear­ings on Bush plan

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

The in­com­ing Demo­cratic chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee on Dec. 26 said he will try to block Pres­i­dent Bush from send­ing an ad­di­tional 30,000 troops to Iraq, call­ing it “the ab­so­lute wrong strat­egy.”

Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. of Delaware plans three straight weeks of con­gres­sional hear­ings on Iraq pol­icy this month in hopes of per­suad­ing the pres­i­dent to aban­don a plan he is thought to be se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing.

“We’ve al­ready bro­ken Iraq. We’re about to break the United States mil­i­tary” by send­ing more troops, said Mr. Bi­den, who is seek­ing the 2008 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Bush early this month will an­nounce a new strat­egy for the war, and is thought to fa­vor a tem­po­rary in­crease in troop lev­els in what has been dubbed a “surge.”

Mr. Bi­den said Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice has agreed to tes­tify be­fore his panel af­ter the pres­i­dent an­nounces his plans. Other likely panel wit­nesses are Iraq Study Group lead­ers James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamil­ton, and new De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates.

The com­mit­tee also will hear from a variety of aca­demics, for­mer and cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, mil­i­tary lead­ers and Peter W. Gal­braith, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Croa­tia, who has called for for­mally par­ti­tion­ing Iraq into three sov­er­eign na­tions.

The idea is to hear from all those who “have ra­tio­nal al­though dif­fer­ent views as to how to pro­ceed in Iraq,” in an at­tempt to build con­sen­sus, Mr. Bi­den said.

“Hope­fully there is still some op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence Pres­i­dent Bush’s de­ci­sion,” he said.

Vot­ers dealt Mr. Bush a blow last month in midterm elec­tions that pro­pelled Democrats to House and Se­nate ma­jori­ties. Soon af­ter the elec­tions, the Iraq Study Group rec­om­mended the U.S. be­gin a with­drawal of com­bat troops.

In­com­ing Demo­cratic lead­ers prom­ise a change of course on the war, which on Dec. 26 reached a death toll sur­pass­ing that of the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Many Democrats op­pose in­creas­ing the num­ber of troops in Iraq, where nearly 150,000 are al­ready sta­tioned.

Repub­li­cans so far seem di­vided on a surge, with Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona push­ing the idea and For­eign Re­la­tions Com- mit­tee mem­ber Sen. Norm Cole­man of Min­nesota say­ing he can’t sup­port send­ing more troops.

Mr. Bi­den fa­vors be­gin­ning to with­draw U.S. troops, and thinks one way to get to that point is to di­vide Iraq into three mostly au­ton­o­mous re­gions with a weak cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad. He notes the Iraqi con­sti­tu­tion calls for such a fed­eral sys­tem, and says it should be part­nered with a plan for shar­ing in oil rev­enues.

Mr. Bi­den worked with Les­lie H. Gelb, pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, in propos­ing the plan in May. He said he will call Mr. Gelb as a wit­ness.

The three weeks of hear­ings will be­gin Jan. 9, will run three to four days per week, and will in­clude dis­cus­sion of the need to bring Iraq’s neigh­bors to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, Mr. Bi­den said.

He said Repub­li­cans should re­al­ize the Iraq sit­u­a­tion holds huge po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions for their party in 2008 — both in con­gres­sional elec­tions and in the race for the White House.

“The last thing that John McCain or any other Repub­li­can [. . . ] run- ning for pres­i­dent wants to in­herit is a war in Iraq that is even fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rat­ing than it is now,” Mr. Bi­den said.

He said Democrats can­not re­main silent on war pol­icy, but noted he thinks it is the Repub­li­cans on the panel who can help pres­sure Mr. Bush into chang­ing his mind.

“There is noth­ing the United States Congress can do by a piece of leg­is­la­tion to al­ter the course of a war the pres­i­dent de­cides,” he said.

Mr. Bi­den re­cently told Mr. Bush as much dur­ing a visit to the White House, say­ing: “Mr. Pres­i­dent, this is your war.”

Bal­anc­ing the per­son­al­i­ties — and com­pet­ing po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial con­tenders from both par­ties who sit on his com­mit­tee — might be eas­ier said than done. Among the pos­si­ble hope­fuls on the panel are Demo­cratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illi­nois, John Kerry of Mas­sachusetts and Christo­pher J. Dodd of Con­necti­cut, and Repub­li­can Sen. Chuck Hagel of Ne­braska.

When asked how hav­ing so many pos­si­ble 2008 can­di­dates at the dais would af­fect th­ese hear­ings, Mr. Bi­den laughed.

“I hope it’s not go­ing to have a lot of im­pact, al­though I am sure there are go­ing to be folks who will pre­pare more thor­oughly,” he said.

Also ex­pected to be an out­spo­ken voice on the panel is Sen.elect James H. Webb Jr., an an­ti­war Vir­ginia Demo­crat who un­seated Repub­li­can Ge­orge Allen in Novem­ber.

Mr. Bush an­nounced last month he would seek an ex­panded armed forces, adding thou­sands of troops to the size of the Army and Marine Corps.

The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported two weeks ago that se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are pres­sur­ing Mr. Bush to seek a larger mil­i­tary and that the Joint Chiefs are “cool at best” to the Iraq Study Group pro­posal.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Vi­o­lence rages: An Iraqi wo­man trav­eled with a child in front of a U.S. Army Stryker ar­mored ve­hi­cle on Dec. 26 in New Bagh­dad, an east­ern Bagh­dad neigh­bor­hood. At least 54 Iraqis died in bomb­ings, and the U.S. an­nounced the deaths of seven Amer­i­can sol­diers.

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