Members of Congress Question Iraq Plan, Seek Alternatives

By Vince Crawley
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Senate leaders from both major U.S. political parties are crafting resolutions that formally express concern over President Bush’s plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Senators stressed that they do not seek to embarrass or undermine the president, but that it is their duty, under the U.S. Constitution, to state their case when they disagree with presidential policies. However, some lawmakers cautioned that a divided government could harm U.S. foreign policies.

In his annual State of the Union address the evening of January 23, President Bush warned that “the consequences of failure [in Iraq] would be grievous and far reaching.” (See related article.)

The president, who is also commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, is deploying an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, where 137,000 Americans already are deployed. The goal of the “surge” plan is to place more U.S. troops in Baghdad, Iraq, and in al-Anbar province to support a bolstered Iraqi effort to decrease the level of violence in critical neighborhoods.

Immediately following the president’s address, the Democratic Party was allowed a televised response, delivered by newly elected Senator James Webb of Virginia, a Vietnam War veteran and former Pentagon official whose son is a Marine serving in Iraq.

Webb said that “this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years.” He invoked the legacy of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower for the historic role they played - Roosevelt as a social reformer and Eisenhower as a statesman.

“Tonight we are calling on the president to take similar action in both areas,” Webb said. “If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will show him the way.”

On January 24, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved by a vote of 12-9 a nonbinding resolution that voices disagreement with sending additional forces to Iraq but does not prevent their deployment. Under the U.S. Constitution, laws passed by Congress must be signed by the president or else approved by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of Congress. A nonbinding resolution does not have the force of law, but does send a strong message on behalf of lawmakers.

The draft resolution says it is “not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force in Iraq.” To be approved, the resolution must still be voted on by the entire Senate. The committee rejected an alternative plan that would have capped U.S. troops in Iraq at their current levels.

“Our resolution of disapproval is not –- I emphasize not –- an attempt to embarrass the president,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden. “[I]t’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.”

Senator Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the committee, said he shares Biden’s concerns, but does not endorse the draft resolution. “I am not confident that President Bush’s plan will succeed,” Lugar said.

“However, I oppose this nonbinding resolution on the basis that it’s the wrong tool for this stage in the Iraq debate,” Lugar said. Because Bush already has said he will ignore the resolution and already is in the process of deploying additional troops, Lugar said it is “unclear to me how [the resolution] will contribute to any improvement or modification of our Iraq policy.”

Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia is drafting an alternate resolution that also disagrees with increased troop levels, but is aimed at gaining wider support in the Senate.

Warner, interviewed by the PBS television network on January 23, said that Bush, when making his Iraq plan public two weeks earlier, invited members of Congress to make recommendations.

“Our resolution is not a confrontational document,” Warner said. “We simply say, Mr. President, we disagree with that high level that you suggested, ... and, Mr. President, we urge you to go back and look at all the options whereby you can possibly employ fewer troops there.”

Warner noted that the U.S. government is not a European-style parliamentary system where the party or coalition with legislative majority determines who is prime minister. The U.S. system creates “co-equal branches of government,” Warner said.

“It’s our duty” to question presidential policy, Warner said, describing the constitutional role of Congress. “We’re a separate branch. We’re proud. I’ve been supportive of the president through these many years [and] decisions. But I think he’s been right in many instances. Where he hasn’t been right, I’ve spoken out on it.”

A transcript of the PBS interview is available on Warner’s Web site.

For more information on the U.S. government, see The U.S. Congress.