Members of Congress Differ on New U.S. Troop Commitment to Iraq

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Reactions from members of Congress to President Bush’s new strategy for the war in Iraq, including the commitment of 21,500 additional troops, ranged from frustrated rejection to enthusiastic acceptance.

In his January 10 speech, the president acknowledged past mistakes in America's three-year strategy to help Iraq counter a stubborn insurgency fueled by foreign fighters and al-Qaida, but defended U.S. involvement in Iraq as a "noble" cause.

"The consequences of failure are clear,” the president said. “Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions."

Bush's new plan includes more U.S. forces to work with Iraqi units to clear and hold troubled areas of Baghdad; an increase of 4,000 U.S. troops to counter terrorist operations in the volatile Anbar province; more U.S. units operating in conjunction with Iraqi ground forces on a regular basis; and more training and equipment for Iraqi troops and security forces.  (See related article.)

The day after the president spoke, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The new way forward that President Bush outlined last night requires us to do things differently. Most importantly, the Iraqis have devised their own strategy, and our efforts will support theirs."

Bush said Rice would travel to the Middle East January 12 - the day after briefing Congress - to explain the new strategy to America's allies and partners in the region.  According to the State Department, Rice will make stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah (Palestinian Territories), Luxor (Egypt), Amman (Jordan), Kuwait City, Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), London and Berlin. (See related article.)

Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat of Illinois) disagreed with the ideas in Bush's speech. "Escalation of the war in Iraq is not the change the American people called for in the last [November 2006 national] election,” he said.  “Instead of a new direction, the president’s plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."

Durbin added: “Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we’ve already lost. … It is time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so that they can begin coming home soon.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (Democrat of California) echoed Durbin, saying: "I oppose the so-called surge that constitutes the centerpiece of the president's plan. Our efforts in Iraq are a mess, and throwing in more troops will not improve it."

Lantos added, "With Iraq sliding into civil war and the Iraqi government still not showing sufficient determination to disarm the militias, we need to involve other parties in the region to take more responsibility for creating a stable Iraq with lasting and meaningful reconstruction."

Addressing the call by some lawmakers for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, Senators Joe Lieberman (Independent of Connecticut) and Lindsey Graham (Republican of South Carolina) - both vocal proponents of a U.S. troop increase - wrote a letter to the president January 8 declaring that "withdrawing from the fight is a recipe for defeat. It should not be adopted."

They added: "We strongly encourage you to send additional American troops to Iraq to improve the security situation on the ground. For far too long we have not had enough troops in Iraq to provide security. It is time to correct this mistake."

Immediately following the president's new troop commitment, Lieberman said: "I applaud the president for rejecting the fatalism of failure and pursuing a new course to achieve success in Iraq.  There is no more difficult decision that a president can make than to send our nation’s bravest soldiers and patriots into harm’s way."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Democrat of California) has been an especially vocal critic of the president's plan.  After Bush's speech, she and other top party leaders in Congress released a statement criticizing the new strategy.

"While we all want to see a stable and peaceful Iraq, many current and former senior military leaders have made clear that sending more American combat troops does not advance that goal," they said.

Rather than increasing the U.S. military commitment in Iraq, the Democratic leadership suggested a new focus involving the start of a "phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months and implementing an aggressive diplomatic strategy, both within the region and beyond, which reflects the continuing obligation of the international community to help stabilize Iraq."

For more information on U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.