Published January 12, 2007
WASHINGTON – Democrats and some Republicans on Thursday refused to budge in their opposition to President Bush's new strategy for Iraq — one that calls for an additional 21,500 U.S. troops — despite being told that benchmarks for success would be measured and the plan re-evaluated within a couple months.
Those kinds of assurances, however, didn't carry much weight with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"It was a mistake to go into Iraq. Now we want to pour 20,000 more of your men and women, your sons and daughters ... into ... the sausage grinder, this great drainer of blood and life?" said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va.
"Apparently the only troops he'll bring home are the many generals who disagreed with him," Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said of the president. Bush "has rejected the advice of the Iraq Study Group, he's rejected military counsel, he's rejected the voices of the people and their elected representatives and we must firmly reject his escalation of what can only be called a spend and bleed policy."
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring Condoleezza Rice Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran, 2008 presidential contender and longtime critic of administration policy in Iraq, received applause when he told the secretary of state that the president's plan is "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam. If it's carried out, I will resist it."
The hearing was also interrupted by a protester who chanted "Lies! It's all lies! More lies! Still lying! Stop lying! Stop the war!"
Rice acknowledged to the senators in her opening remarks that Americans are not supportive of the war, but to leave Iraq now would spread chaos.
"I want you to know that I understand and indeed feel the heartbreak that Americans feel at the continued sacrifice of American lives, men and women who can never be replaced for their families, and for the concern of our men and women who are still in harm's way," she said.
"This is a time for a national imperative not to fail in Iraq," she added.
In fact, the latest poll by AP-Ipsos, showed 70 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq and 26 percent favor it. Seventy percent also responded that sending troops won't help stabilize the situation in Iraq. Those polled gave Bush a 32 percent overall job approval rating.
While mostly Democrats have opposed the war — and 87 percent did so in the AP poll — 52 percent of Republicans said they don't want to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.
Speaking to Rice, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the committee chairman and also a 2008 presidential contender, said, "To be very blunt, I cannot in good conscience support the president's approach."
On the House floor, another Republican backer also abandoned the president. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla. noted that he was breaking ranks with Bush after long supporting the president's war policy.
"At this late stage, interjecting more young American troops into the crossfire of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach," Keller said.
Bush's new strategy, announced Wednesday in a prime-time address to the nation, includes sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops — 17,500 to Baghdad and 4,000 to Al Anbar province — to join the 132,000 already there. Five brigades will be deployed to Baghdad and work alongside and be embedded in Iraqi units.
"The increase in military forces will be phased in. It will not unfold overnight. There will be no D-Day. It won't look like the Gulf War," Gates said.
A senior military official said a key difference in the new military strategy in Iraq is that the United States now believes the Iraqi government will give it carte blanche to go after targets that had been previously off limits because they were considered politically sensitive.
While the official would not specifically say whether this includes radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who had been the target of a U.S. military manhunt in 2004, he revealed the Iraqi government will no longer place restrictions on targets like him.
"There was a locational or geographic restriction on Sadr city and there have been restrictions on our deliberate targeting of extremist leaders that would on occasion exclude certain leaders. They were considered not targetable. Those restrictions on both ends of the sectarian extreme, both Sunni and Shia, we are led to believe that the Iraqi government has commited to lifting such restrictions."
Bush said the Iraqi government will take responsibility for the security in Iraq's 18 provinces by November, the parliament will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis and the government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. Provincial elections will be held this year and amendments will be offered to the constitution. The government will also reform de-Baathification laws that stripped Saddam Hussein's military commanders and supporters from any role in Iraqi society.
The United States will increase its Provincial Reconstruction Teams to administer economic aid, including an effort to provide small loans to start or expand businesses. Heading that effort will be Amb. Tim Carney, who formerly served in Haiti, and has worked in post-conflict stabilization, reconstruction and development.
Gates acknowledged that the time to act on the new plans is limited by American impatience, but told the House Armed Services Committee that despite one's view about whether the U.S. should have gone to war in the first place, "There seems to be broad agreement that failure in Iraq would be a calamity for our nation of lasting historical consequence."
The Bush administration has not put a timeframe on keeping the troops in Iraq, but Gates said no one is thinking in terms of surging U.S. troops for 18 months or two years
"I think we will know in a couple of months or so whether this strategy is in fact beginning to bear fruit," he said, adding that Iraqis will face the consequences if they renege on their pledges as part of the security plan the president outlined Wednesday night.
"The president has made very clear that American patience is limited and obviously if the Iraqis fail to maintain their commitments we'll have to revisit our strategy."
However, in Fort Benning, Ga., where he had lunch with the troops, Bush cautioned that the troop increase "is not going to yield immediate results. It's going to take awhile."
Still, back in Washington, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace joined Gates in expressing support for a quick analysis of success. "There is no number of additional U.S. troops that will make a long term difference absent the political will of the Iraqi leadership and the religious leadership" to improve the situation in Iraq.
In most places, administration officials faced a skeptical and often hostile audience. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, told Rice that Bush could no longer count on his support.
"You're going to have to do a much better job" explaining the rationale for the war, "and so is the president," he said. "I've gone along with the president on this and I've bought into his dream and at this stage of the game I just don't think its going to happen."
In a Senate speech, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that while Bush's plan would be carefully scrutinized, "In choosing to escalate the war, the president virtually stands alone."
At the same time, Reid recognized that he is "not the president ... It is the president's obligation to set the policy." But speaking in language used by most opponents — that Iraq is in a civil war — Reid said he thought it was a mistake to send more U.S. soldiers to get in the middle of it.
Democrats are seeking bipartisan support for a resolution that would place Congress on record opposing the troop increase. Talk has also been growing about attaching a host of conditions to a spending bill to cover the costs of the buildup.
That talk earned the scorn of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said he would filibuster any efforts to try to stop the president from exercising his authority as commander in chief.
"Congress is completely incapable of dictating the tactics of the war," he said.
The Kentucky Republican leader conceded that GOP lawmakers as well as Democrats are troubled by Bush's new policy, but accused Democrats of secretly favoring a plan to cut off funding for the troops — an allegation that Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., denied.
One Republican aide told FOX News that Republicans who support the Bush surge "will do all they can to keep that resolution off the floor. If Reid had 60 votes, he'd have it on the floor getting a vote right now."
After a meeting at the White House, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed both doubts and optimism about the strategy.
"I am concerned about Maliki and his strength. I am concern as to whether these are sufficient number of troops," he said. "But I do think we can succeed."
McCain, a 2008 presidential contender, has been among a handful of lawmakers who have called for more — not fewer — U.S. troops in Iraq.
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.