Both parties question sending more forces

Bush takes strategy to troops

Senate Democrats plan resolution of disapproval

January 12, 2007|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats together registered deepening anger and frustration over President Bush's Iraq policy yesterday as top administration officials tried to sell the new version of the Bush war plan to a hostile Congress.

There were no overt moves on Capitol Hill to cut off funding for the troop increase as some had suggested. But the Iraq strategy seemed headed for a serious fight in Washington, as Senate Democrats said they intend to offer a resolution of disapproval and the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, vowed to mount a filibuster in opposition.

But a tumultuous day on Capitol Hill did seem to mark, as Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California observed, "the bipartisan end of a rubber-stamp Senate."

In that spirit, Republican Sen. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire demanded "much more clarity and specifics" from the administration on how the plan would work and specifically how the White House intended to force Iraq's government to take the reform steps it has promised.

"If we don't see more specifics," Sununu said, "then Congress is probably going to step into the void."

Bush announced Wednesday night that he is sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, mostly into Baghdad to work with Iraqi security forces to try to take control of the capital. Bush said the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki had agreed not only to pour additional troops of its own into the capital, but also to undertake serious political reforms as well.

The plan outlined by Bush was an adjustment of the basic strategy that has guided U.S. policy in Iraq for three years: to train and equip Iraqi forces to take over security from American troops.

Summing up the frustration of many Americans, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said the Bush administration "took a gamble" in Iraq.

"It's staked American prestige and our national security on the premise that it could go in, overthrow Saddam Hussein and rebuild a functioning democracy. And so far, each time that we've made an assessment of how that gamble has paid off, it appears that it has failed," he said.

"At what point do we say, `enough'?" Obama asked.

Attempting to answer these concerns, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared at an early-morning news briefing and daylong hearings on Capitol Hill, seeking to explain precisely why they thought this plan would work where others had failed.

"The security plan is designed to have Iraqi forces lead a campaign, with our forces in support, to protect the population of Baghdad from intimidation and violence instigated by Sunni and Shia extremist groups, and to enable the Iraqi government to take the difficult steps necessary to address that nation's underlying issues," Gates told reporters at the White House.

Yesterday, Gates also announced that he's recommending that the Army and Marines boost their numbers by a total of 92,000 over the next five years.

In a sharply worded exchange with Obama, Rice responded directly to concerns that the United States might again see its troops in peril as Iraq's government failed to curb the sectarian militias.

"We're not going to stay married to a plan that isn't working because the Iraqis aren't living up to their end of the bargain," Rice said.

On the difficult issue of dealing with Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shiite cleric who leads a substantial political bloc in al-Maliki's government and controls a powerful Shiite militia, Rice said that is up to the Iraqis.

"To the degree that Sadr is outside of the political process and his death squads are engaged in violence, then they're going to have to deal with those death squads," she said. "And the prime minister said nobody and nothing is off limits."

But whether that means American troops will have to storm the Sadr City strongholds of Sadr's militia was left unclear. Other details of Bush's plan were also hard to pin down.

Precisely how many U.S. troops will go into Baghdad? Not clear, Pace told the House Armed Services Committee. Some of the 21,500 troops Bush mentioned could go to Iraq soon "or not go at all, depending on the situation," Pace said.

How long will it take for the plan to take effect?

"It's going to unfold over time," Gates said. "I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long the surge would last." He added: "We are at the mercy of anyone willing to strap on a bomb and blow themselves up, in terms of more bloodshed and more violence."

How would anyone know when the plan has worked? What's the exit strategy?

"I think at the outset of the strategy it's a mistake to talk about an exit strategy," Gates said.

And Pace acknowledged, on the question of whether the plan would succeed: "There are no guarantees."

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