Democrats, Officials Criticize President’s Iraq War Troop Increase

President Bush is reportedly preparing to announce an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 US troops to Iraq next week, in a move expected to provoke a fiery clash with the new Democrat-controlled Congress, including war-weary Republicans anxious to put the war behind them before the 2008 congressional and presidential elections.

“We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war,” Mr Bush wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal last week. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) immediately commented, “We hope that when the president says ‘compromise,’ it means more than ‘do it my way,’ which is what he’s meant in the past.” In his opinion piece, Mr Bush argued that US forces must remain in Iraq until the insurgency is defeated. He is expected to detail his new Iraq strategy on Wednesday, after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announces his new security plan.

It is understood that Mr Maliki does not favor additional US troops in Iraq, and told Mr Bush during a two-hour video conference discussion on Thursday that he would consult with his military advisors to see if more US troops were needed.  Democratic leaders in the US Congress are fiercely opposed to increasing the number of US troops in Iraq. After being sworn in as House Speaker on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “The election of 2006 was a call to change – not merely to change the control of Congress, but for a new direction for our country. Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in the war in Iraq. The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end.”

She and new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote in a letter to Mr Bush on Friday, “We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq … Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain … Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror.”  Ms Pelosi has ruled out cutting off funding for the war, yet said she is considering attaching conditions or performance criteria to any grants of further funding.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, agreed that Congressional oversight would be an effective means of winding down the war: “Believe me, we don’t have to talk about cutting the funds, impeaching the president. The American community is fed up, and we’ve got to get some answers. And let me make it abundantly clear. No president can conduct any war without the support of the American people.” On Friday, Mr Bush met with several senators to hear their ideas on Iraq, including Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.). After the meeting, Mr Obama said he had told Mr Bush that he opposes a troop increase and that Democrats and Republicans share “grave misgivings about what’s taking place”.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who also met with Mr Bush on Friday, said there is almost universal disapproval in Congress for increasing troop levels and added, “I don’t think there was a sense that a case had been made.” Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has strongly supported a troop surge in the past, has recently said, “It has to be significant and sustained. Otherwise do not do it.” Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) agreed that only a “substantial and sustained” increase in troop numbers would be supportable.

Yet this option has been dismissed as unsustainable by current and former military commanders. Only last month, Gen. John Abizaid, (retiring) commander of US forces in the Middle East, told a Senate panel that higher troop levels are not sustainable because nearly every unit is either deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, recovering from deployment, or preparing for one.  Last month, former Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell said, “I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work. The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they’re being asked to perform. There are really no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there there longer, and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops. If I were still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question to whoever is proposing it would be, what mission is it these troops are to accomplish? If victory means you have got rid of every insurgent, that you have peace throughout the country, I don’t see that in the cards right now.”

Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said there are growing fears that Mr Bush is prolonging the war for the duration of his term as President, which ends in January 2009, to avoid taking responsibility for the US defeat in Iraq.  The US has already spent an estimated $437 billion on the Iraq war, according to the Congressional Research Service, with a further $100 billion tipped to be spent in 2007. The resulting record US deficits have horrified both Democrats and Republicans: $248 billion for the fiscal year just ended, down from $319 billion in 2005 and $413 billion in 2004.  It has been widely argued that the Iraq war has broken the US economy and is now on the verge of breaking the US military. It remains to be seen whether the new Democrat-controlled Congress will be able to rein in the President’s “go for broke” strategy in Iraq.

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