Democrats ready to fight new war plan; vow to oppose any ‘escalation’
Democrats on Jan. 10 attacked President Bush’s new plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and began laying the groundwork for a showdownbetweentheexecutiveandlegislative branches over war powers.
“Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election,” Democratic Whip Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said in his party’s response to Mr. Bush’s prime-time presentation of his Iraq strategy changes.
“Instead of a new direction, the president’s plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction.”
The new Democratic-led Congress plans to grill Bush administration officials during Capitol Hill hearings on the Iraq war — and begandoingsoonJan.11whenSecretaryofStateCondoleezzaRiceand Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates testify before congressional committees.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Americans want to know whether Mr. Bush’s strategy is a “change of course.”
“Or is this simply more of the same with slightly different rhetoric?” Mr. Schumer said.
MissRicetestifiedbeforetheSenateandHouseforeignrelationscommittees,andMr.Gates,whoreplaced thewar’sarchitectDonaldH.Rumsfeld last month, testified before the House Armed Services Committee onJan.11andtheSenateArmedServices Committee on Jan. 12.
Democratic leaders also are drafting a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop surge, which they want to put up for a vote in both theHouseandSenatethisweekand which they think some Republicans will support.
“The issue is: Do you support the president’s policy? That will be the vote,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Sen.SamBrownback,KansasRepublican and a favorite of conservatives, said Mr. Bush’s troop surge is not the answer.
“Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution,” he said.
Mr. Bush said he will send more than17,000soldierstoBaghdadand 4,000MarinestotheAnbarprovince to try to break the cycle of violence and“hastenthedayourtroopsbegin coming home.” He said Iraq has responsibilities that it must meet.
“The president knows there is no silver bullet to make our mission there easier, but he is committed to a new, better strategy that will move us toward a stable Iraq,” said House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.
“It is not the responsibility of members of Congress to dictate strategy to the commander in chief, who is ultimately responsible, along with the commanders on the ground, for implementing a winning strategy.”
But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said that if neither the hearings nor the anti-troop surge resolution change Mr. Bush’s stance, he will move forward with a bill in “a matter of days” that would require the president to seek congressional approval for a troop increase.
“What we really ought to be having is a surge of political initiatives, rather than a surge of military initiatives,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Some senators said they would support such a move, but Democratic leaders on Jan. 9 appeared to brushasideMr.Kennedy’sproposal.
If Mr. Kennedy’s idea gains momentum and comes to the Senate floor, the president’s war powers under the Constitution’s Article II would be at issue.
Congress voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002, and under the Constitution, the president is the “commander in chief” of the nation’s military and has authority to prosecute a war as he sees fit.
Mr. Kennedy’s bill, however, says that the 2002 authorization no longer applies to the current situation, which Democrats view as a civil war with U.S. troops caught in the crossfire.
“ThemissionoftheArmedForces oftheUnitedStatesinIraqnolonger bears any resemblance to the missionoftheArmedForcesauthorized byCongressintheAuthorizationfor Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002,” Mr. Kennedy’s proposal reads.
Mr. Bush’s position is that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror and that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, some backed by Iran, want to drive U.S. troops out of Iraq and then launch attacks on American soil.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent,saidthepresident“did nottaketheeasypath,buthetookthe correct and courageous course.”
“Defeat in Iraq would result in a moral and strategic setback in our global struggle against Islamist extremists who seek to strike our interests and our homeland,” Mr. Lieberman said.
Likely Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2008 have taken a range of views on Iraq.
Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, called the troop increase “a mistakethatIandotherswillactively oppose in the days to come.”
“Escalationhasalreadybeentried and it has already failed, because no amountofAmericanforcescansolve thepoliticaldifferencesthatlieatthe heart of somebody else’s civil war,” he said.
FormerSen.JohnEdwards,North Carolina Democrat, wants an immediate withdrawal, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has said she opposes a surgebutkeptalowprofilelastweek on Capitol Hill.
Stephen Dinan contributed to thisarticle,whichisbasedinparton wire service reports.