Senate panel strikes first blow to block Bush's Iraq plan
January 24, 2007
By JOHN YAUKEY
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON — Democrats began what they promised would be a prolonged push to stop President George W. Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq today granting initial approval of a resolution condemning the move and potentially opening the door to debate on funding cuts for the war.
“This 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,” said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which adopted the resolution. "This is our first, most immediate and most practical way to affect the president."
The 12-9 committee vote, which fell mainly along party lines, came a day after Bush asked Americans in his State of the Union speech to give his Iraq plan time to work.
The nonbinding resolution said Bush’s plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq mainly to quell the sectarian violence ripping apart Baghdad is ”not in the national interest.“
It was coauthored by Biden, fellow Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel.
The full Senate is expected to take up the measure as soon as next week, setting up a forum for what promises to be hours of impassioned debate on the war if today was an indication of how deeply concerned lawmakers are about events in Iraq.
”We’d better be damn sure we know what we’re doing — all of us — before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder,” said Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran. “I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? What do you think? Why were you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.”
The resolution also sets up a framework for lawmakers to confront Bush on larger questions about the future of the war and his authority to wage it against growing pessimism among the public and Congress. Some of the leading Democrats on the committee made it clear they want to go beyond stopping the troop surge and start withdrawing U.S. troops.
“My intention from the outset was to send the first of many messages to the president,” Biden said.
Some Democrats on the panel called for tougher measures including caps on troops levels and funding cuts for the war, which lawmakers used to get American forces out of Vietnam.
“I fear this is slow walking,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who wants funding cuts. “This is not the time for legislative nuancing.”
Biden said a nonbinding resolution was the fastest way to get the debate over Bush’s war policy moving, and other measures can be added later. He said his committee would soon begin hearings on some of those tougher measures, which could force Bush’s hand, although he stopped short of endorsing any sort of funding cuts.
“We have a number of constitutionally legitimate alternatives,” he said.
Some Republicans, while uneasy with the resolution’s language, were also deeply bothered by the course of the war and what they saw as the president’s refusal to listen to Congress.
“They have got to understand how concerned we are about this,” said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
Some Republicans back a resolution by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that opposed the troop increase but with language less confrontational with the White House.
Senate takes only swipe it can on Iraq
January 25, 2007
So much for the time President George W. Bush requested in his State of the Union address. A day later, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution, cosponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, telling him not to send more troops to Iraq.
A public rebuke of a commander in chief's war strategy is rare and risky. But it's hard to argue with the sentiment, best articulated by cosponsor and Vietnam veteran Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
"This is a ping-pong game with American lives," said Hagel, the lone Republican joining Democrats in the 12-9 vote. "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."
The resolution is one of two, supported by at least eight Republicans, objecting to the troop increase. They reflect the will of the people expressed at the ballot box.
Presidents, of course, have to make the best strategic decisions they can, irrespective of the polls, but public sentiment, reinforced by Congress, has impact. "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.
The resolution will not cut off funding for the troops -- that would be foolhardy. Nor is it a cut-and-run strategy, rather a call for phased withdrawal and a political solution. Perhaps there should have been a better way to reach the president, but so far he has been unswayed by voters, senators' calls and letters and visits, and the Iraq Study Group.
"We can't be silent on an issue like this," Levin, D-Detroit, told the Free Press. "Troops want us to be expressing the truth. We owe them that -- we owe our troops everything. We owe them equipment; we owe them support for their families. We also owe them the best accounting of what we think the facts are."
The fact is people fear sending their soldiers into what increasingly looks like a no-win proposition. The question is not whether Bush gets more time, but whether there's still time to change his mind.