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Senators swipe back over Iraq

Opponents of a troop buildup say Bush's `failed' war strategy has emboldened the enemy, not their resolutions.

January 29, 2007|Julian E. Barnes | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Prominent Democratic senators who are against the troop buildup in Iraq took issue Sunday with criticism from Bush administration officials who have charged that opposition to the president's new strategy could embolden the enemy.

"It's not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's the failed policy of this president -- going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely."

On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said a congressional resolution against the buildup could demonstrate "flagging will" by the nation and potentially "emboldens the enemy and our adversaries."

His comments echoed those made earlier in the week by Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new top commander in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney has also spoken critically of the resolution.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine and Navy secretary who is a leading critic of the war, appeared Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" and said Gates was wrong.

"First of all, who's the enemy?" Webb asked, "Who are they talking about? Are they talking about Iran? Are they talking about the insurgents? Are they talking about Al Qaeda?"

Biden, speaking on ABC's "This Week," said he believed as few as 20 senators thought President Bush's plan to add 21,500 troops in Baghdad and Al Anbar province was the "right direction" for U.S. strategy.

The foreign relations committee last week voted to support a resolution sponsored by Biden and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), opposing the troop increase. Hagel was the only Republican on the committee to support the resolution, although many spoke against the buildup.

A second, more gently worded measure opposing the troop increase, drafted by Virginia Republican Sen. John W. Warner, has drawn support from five other GOP senators. Warner is a former Navy secretary and past chairman of the Armed Services Committee whose views on military issues are widely respected.

Debate on the resolutions could begin as soon as this week.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican on the foreign relations committee, said rather than taking a "show of hands" Congress should try to work constructively with Bush.

Lugar, who appeared with Biden on "This Week," said the resolutions "are not helpful to Gen. Petraeus, to the troops, to the Iraqis but we do need some policies that will be helpful, and hopefully our committee can be constructive in forging those."

The resolutions are becoming something of a test issue for the growing number of presidential candidates.

Biden is set to announce his run for the presidency this week and joked Sunday that he would be the "800th candidate."

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who last week came out for Warner's measure, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the enemy was already emboldened and resolutions would hardly change that.

But Mike Huckabee, the Republican former governor of Arkansas who said he would announce his candidacy today, opposed the resolutions on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I think it's one thing to have a debate and a discussion about this strategy," he said, "but to openly oppose, in essence, the strategy, I think that can be a very risky thing for our troops."

On "Face the Nation," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he was appealing to members of his party not to support the Biden or Warner resolutions.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the strongest supporters of the troop buildup, is also crafting an alternative measure that would call for benchmarks against which to measure the Iraqi government.

McConnell said if there had to be a resolution, he would push for one like McCain's. Establishing benchmarks for the Iraqi government, he said, could be helpful to Petraeus. But McConnell said any Senate resolution would have to have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes to pass. As a result, he predicted that it would be hard for any of the resolutions to pass.

"I am not certain any of these will get 60 votes," he said. "We'll find out in the coming week or two."

julian.barnes@latimes.com

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