Advertisement

The Conflict in Iraq

War Critics Have Backing, but Not Much of a Following

August 28, 2005|Doyle McManus | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After a summer of mounting discontent over the war in Iraq, President Bush will face renewed criticism from Democrats and Republicans when Congress returns to work next week. But he appears unlikely to come up against an effective challenge to his policy -- because his critics in both parties are deeply divided over what change in course to propose.

"There is an alternative strategy," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a leading foreign policy critic, but "not a united one."

Over the last two months, as U.S. combat casualties have risen and efforts to draft a new Iraqi constitution have sputtered, public support for the war has sagged. War protesters, rallied by Cindy Sheehan, a Vacaville, Calif., woman whose son died in Iraq, dogged President Bush at his ranch in Texas and at speeches in Idaho.

Reflecting the public mood, some members of Congress have sharpened their criticism. Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), who is considering a run for president, called on the Bush administration to set a target of December 2006 for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a maverick Republican, said the war reminded him of Vietnam: "We're not winning. We should start figuring out how we get out of there."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 14, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
War poll -- An Aug. 28 article in Section A about congressional critics of President Bush's Iraq policy reported that a poll had found that 15% of Republicans favored total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, 33% favored partial withdrawal and 64% favored maintaining or increasing troop strength. The correct poll results were: 15% favored total withdrawal, 18% favored partial withdrawal and 64% favored maintaining or increasing troop strength.

Even Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a strong Bush ally who will face a tough race for reelection in 2006, said he had privately expressed "concerns" over the administration's management of the war. "I have a very clear track record of being supportive of the policy but not necessarily all of the tactics," Santorum told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But the most outspoken critics are, for now, lonely voices.

Among Democrats, no other senator has seconded Feingold's call for a withdrawal date, although Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was considering it, a spokesman said. Among Republicans, none of Hagel's colleagues endorsed his view of Iraq as a second Vietnam. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), usually a Hagel ally, said the comparison was mistaken and instead called for more troops.

In the House of Representatives, a resolution calling on Bush to begin withdrawing troops by October 2006 gathered 45 cosponsors by the midsummer congressional recess: 40 of the House's 202 Democrats, four of its 231 Republicans and one independent. Those numbers reflect a sharp contrast between the two parties in Congress.

A large majority of Republicans support Bush's Iraq policy, but some have been critical about the details. But Democrats appear increasingly divided between a small but growing caucus calling for withdrawal from Iraq, and a larger centrist group -- including such potential presidential candidates as Biden and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- that has stopped well short of that step.

"There's a base in the party that would give the president no power to go to war with Iraq," Biden acknowledged in an interview. But he said "the vast majority" of Democrats believe that the consequences of leaving Iraq unattended justify continued American involvement.

"This split [in the party] has existed for some time," he said. "But the idea that the leaders of the party have stayed silent is just not accurate. I've made five major speeches, all of them saying we're running out of time."

Biden called on the administration to increase the pace of training for Iraqi security forces, to seek more help from European countries and to enlist Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- Iraq's neighbors -- in what he called "a regional policy" to stabilize the country.

He said he did not agree with calls like Feingold's for a specified withdrawal date for U.S. forces. "This is very different from Vietnam," Biden said. "There's much more at stake." Nevertheless, he predicted that "by the end of '06, we'll be out of there -- either because we've solidified the country, or it will be beyond our control."

The Democrats' divisions and the Republicans' relative unity also reflect what pollsters have found: American opinion on Iraq appears polarized along partisan lines, with an increasing number of Democrats favoring a complete withdrawal of troops.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in early August found that 33% of all respondents, a record high, agreed with the statement that "the U.S. should withdraw all of its troops from Iraq." Among Democrats, 52% favored total withdrawal, 26% favored the withdrawal of some troops and 20% favored maintaining the current number of troops or sending more. Among Republicans, 15% favored total withdrawal, 33% favored partial withdrawal and 64% favored maintaining or increasing troop strength.

Those numbers suggest that potential Democratic presidential candidates like Biden and Clinton will face pressure from party activists to call for early troop withdrawals. Republican candidates, on the other hand, will feel the heat from their party's base to continue supporting Bush's approach.

The Senate's Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees plan oversight hearings on Iraq next month.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|