US lawmakers attack plan to send more troops to Iraq

Major confrontation over Bush’s plan looms as both Democrats and Republicans oppose it.

THE Bush administration’s plan to send more troops to Iraq ran into serious opposition in Congress yesterday, with both Democrats and Republicans launching scathing attacks on it.

In what is looking to be the most significant confrontation between Congress and the White House over military policy since the Vietnam War, leading members of President George W. Bush’s national security team found themselves in pitched exchanges with lawmakers at special hearings on Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace sought to rally support a day after Mr Bush announced plans to send over 21,500 more US soldiers.

But the three had to fend off mocking challenges and scepticism over the controversial decision in both the House and Senate.

Undoubtedly, the Democrats were the most stinging in their criticism, moving ahead with plans to oppose Mr Bush’s proposal through non-binding resolutions.

Their other option is to trim funding. Some Democrats wanted to place restrictions on the administration when Congress considers a war spending measure later this year.

Since the President’s announcement on Wednesday night, top Democrats have been developing specific policy responses to Mr Bush’s plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid began meetings with other senior senators, including Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin and Senator Joseph Biden, who sits on the influential Foreign Relations Committee.

The Democrats have little consensus thus far on how to deal with the Iraq quagmire. They face a delicate mission, determined to force an end to the Iraq war but eager to support the troops. Observers believe this puts a huge burden on the party in deciding whether to go for the jugular.

A congressional aide to a Democrat Senator explained: “We want to hit Bush hard. But being in control of Congress today makes the Democrats also morally culpable for what happens in Iraq. So, we need to be careful in our response.”

Some Democrats believe they owe their newfound power to an election pledge to withdraw from Iraq. There is also the experience of Vietnam. The party suffered a severe backlash for supporting the Vietnam War, and the current leaders are intent on avoiding another one.

Despite differences among the Democrat ranks, they have been united in criticising the Bush administration. This was clearly reflected in the hearings yesterday.

Mr Gates and General Pace came in for criticism, but it was Dr Rice who bore the brunt of the attacks. She appeared in the morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in the afternoon before the House counterpart. She was grilled sharply by Democrats and Republicans, but maintained grace under fire – despite some personal insinuations.

Ironically, the biggest criticism came from moderate Republicans. Dr Rice had several tense exchanges, especially with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and longtime critic of Mr Bush’s Iraq policy.

When she disputed his contention that Iraq was in the throes of civil war, Senator Hagel shot back: “To sit there and say that, that’s just not true… This is the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”

BIGGEST BLUNDER SINCE VIETNAM
“To sit there and say that, that’s just not true… This is the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”
REPUBLICAN CHUCK HAGEL, after Dr Rice disputed his contention that Iraq was in the throes of civil war

NO CHILDREN TO LOSE
“Who pays the price? You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family.”
DEMOCRAT BARBARA BOXER, noting that Dr Rice, who is single, has no children of her own to lose overseas

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