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Iraq buildup draws new challenge

GOP's Sen. Warner is an author of the latest resolution opposing Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops.

January 23, 2007|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Three Senate Republicans, including one of the White House's most powerful supporters of the Iraq war, introduced a resolution Monday to oppose any troop buildup -- a serious setback for President Bush.

The latest challenge is led by Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a widely respected onetime Navy secretary and former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, who had been largely restrained in his criticism of the president's plan until Monday.

"I feel ever so strongly that the American GI was not trained, not sent over ... to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shia and the wanton, incomprehensible killing that's going on at this time," Warner said at a news conference. The resolution is the second that aims to put Congress on the record against Bush's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500, an issue the full Senate could start to debate next week. It expresses the sense that the Senate disagrees with the buildup and is largely similar to the earlier resolution, but is more deferential to presidential authority.

Warner's decision to introduce a nonbinding resolution -- co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, along with Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- deals a blow to a White House that has been struggling to contain a revolt on Capitol Hill.

It was greeted warmly Monday by congressional war opponents, who are pushing to rein in the president and force him to begin bringing home the roughly 132,000 troops in Iraq.

"If you look at what has happened to this debate in the last 10 days ... not only from Democrats, but Republicans, this has been a major kind of escalation of expression of opposition," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has introduced legislation that would require the president to get congressional authorization for the additional troop deployments.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who last week introduced the other anti-buildup resolution with Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said Biden was open to amending his resolution. Biden and other Democrats are working to round up the Republican votes that any resolution would need to overcome a possible filibuster. Sixty votes are required to cut off debate.

"What's striking is that the bottom line of both resolutions is the same: bipartisan opposition to the president's plan to send more American troops to Iraq to fight a civil war," said Elizabeth Alexander, Biden's spokeswoman.

The Biden resolution, unlike Warner's, calls Bush's proposal an "escalation," a word criticized by some Republicans as politically loaded because of its association with Vietnam. It also does not include wording that acknowledges the president's constitutional authority to direct the war.

On Monday, several Republican leaders rallied to the president's side.

"We should all want this strategy to work. We should do everything in our power to help make it work. And that begins by giving it a chance and not criticizing it before the strategy even has a few days to work out," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in an emphatic speech on the Senate floor. "That's why the possibility of a resolution, which is highly critical of the president's strategy and suggests a different course of action and a timeline for leaving, is the wrong strategy," said Kyl, the No. 3 GOP Senate leader.

In the House, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has expressed strong support for the White House, challenged Democrats to cooperate with Republicans to make the president's strategy work.

Also potentially complicating the congressional debate over the war is that a growing number of senators -- including several presidential candidates -- are promoting their own proposals to challenge the president's Iraq plans.

But Warner's stature as a longtime supporter of the military and onetime White House ally helped drive the sense Monday that Congress was moving closer to a powerful, if symbolic, repudiation of Bush's position.

The courtly five-term senator, whose bleak October assessment of the situation in Iraq helped unleash other GOP criticism of the White House in the run-up to the midterm election, was careful Monday not to directly challenge the president's role as the nation's commander in chief.

His resolution accepts the White House argument that "a failed state in Iraq would present a threat to regional and world peace" and explicitly rejects the calls of many Bush opponents for a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"Those are matters that must be left to the president," Warner said on the floor of the Senate on Monday evening. "We do not mean to be confrontational with our president."

The resolution also accepts that additional troops may be needed in Al Anbar province to fight the insurgency there.

Bush has proposed deploying 4,000 of the 21,500 additional troops in the Sunni-dominated region.

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