The following was published in USA Today this morning:
A First Step in Iraq
Today, Congress takes an important step in what we believe is our constitutional responsibility to actively engage and debate the war in Iraq. We agree with the president that our previous strategy in Iraq was failing. Equally, we are convinced that to succeed in Iraq, America's objective and strategy must enjoy the support of the American people and a bipartisan support in Congress.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on a resolution we introduced with our colleagues Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The resolution says what we and many of our colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, believe: America should not deepen its military involvement in Iraq by sending more U.S. troops into the middle of a civil war. More troops in Baghdad will increase the likelihood of more American casualties and will not end the sectarian Iraqi massacres that are occurring every day.
Just as important, our resolution proposes an alternative. The primary objective of America's strategy should be to help Iraqis achieve a political settlement in Iraq, secure support for that settlement from Iraq's neighbors and refocus the mission of our remaining troops on achievable objectives. That is the only way to stop Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other and allow our troops to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind.
Here are the main elements of our plan:
•Redeploy U.S. forces out of Iraq's cities with a more limited mission focused on defending Iraq's territorial integrity, counterterrorism, border control, and accelerated training of Iraqi forces;
•Transfer responsibility for internal security and halting sectarian violence to Iraqi forces under an appropriately expedited timeline;
•Continue to support Iraq's political process while making it clear that Iraqi leaders must make the political compromises necessary to help Iraq move forward;
•Engage Iraq's neighbors and the international community to build a regional framework to help support and sustain a political solution and national reconciliation.
Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the president's plan to the Foreign Relations Committee. The reaction from Democrats and Republicans alike ranged from profound skepticism to outright opposition.
A strong majority of the American people opposes sending more American troops into Iraq. So does a broad cross section of this country's leaders, military and civilian, as we have heard this month in hearings in Congress. In December, the Baker-Hamilton Commission issued a valuable report, suggesting a comprehensive strategy "to enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly" based on "new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region."
Our fundamental objective is to build a bipartisan majority in Congress to support a U.S. policy on Iraq that stands the best chance of succeeding and bringing our men and women in uniform home.
We welcome debate of our resolution and proposed alternatives. The resolution by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., contributes to this debate. As we have made clear publicly and privately, we are prepared to adjust our resolution to help broaden bipartisan support. Ultimately, this debate will give every senator a chance to say where he or she stands.
We believe that the single most effective way for Congress to engage the president in developing a way forward in Iraq is to demonstrate the depth and breadth of bipartisan concern regarding his policy. The power of our resolution rests in its bipartisan foundation.
Iraq is not a partisan issue. It is a challenge that we must meet as Americans. No one in Congress and no one in America wants to see America defeated. We believe our nation is stronger when Congress fulfills its constitutional duty as a co-equal branch of government.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., is a member of the committee.