Top Democrats Oppose More Troops in Iraq
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 -- As President Bush prepares to present his new strategy on Iraq to the American people, Democratic Congressional leaders said today they will fight any approach that calls for deploying more United States troops there.
“We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future but, like many of our senior military leaders, we do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, wrote to Mr. Bush.
“Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain,” the Democrats’ letter said.
Also reiterating his deep opposition to any troop increases was Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. “The administration refuses to acknowledge the devastating impact that keeping our brave troops in Iraq is having on our national security, and now the president is considering sending even more troops,” Mr. Feingold said in a statement.
“We should be bringing our troops out of Iraq, not the other way around,” he said. “The American people’s message at the ballot box was loud and clear, and it is past time that the administration listened.”
The Pelosi-Reid letter, and Mr. Feingold’s allusion to the November elections, underscored the new political reality for the White House. As President Bush prepares to take his case to the American people, and assembles a new military and diplomatic team to go with his redefined Iraq strategy, he is encountering fierce opposition from the newly empowered Democratic leadership.
In fact, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid are digging in more firmly than some of their Democratic colleagues who have not ruled out at least a modest, temporary troop increase. President Bush must be heartened, for example, by the stance of Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the new head of the Armed Services Committee, who has said he would not “prejudge” the president’s proposal, provided that any troop increase is linked to a broader approach to disentangle the United States from Iraq.
Mr. Levin announced today that the Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on Iraq next Friday, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying.
Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi made it clear they have already made up their minds on troop increases. Their letter was sent as President Bush was signaling the direction he may take by installing new people in key diplomatic and military posts.
In promoting Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus to become the top commander in Iraq, succeeding Gen. George W. Casey Jr., President Bush is turning to a general who has been advocating more United States troops in Iraq.
And in choosing Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador to Iraq, to be the new American ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Bush achieves two goals: he removes Mr. Khalilzad from Baghdad, where he has been perceived by some Shiites as not being sympathetic to him because he is a Sunni, and he gives the United States a strong voice at the United Nations in place of John R. Bolton, who served under a cloud because he was unable to win Senate confirmation.
Moreover, in selecting Ryan C. Crocker, the current ambassador to Pakistan, to replace Mr. Khalilzad in Baghdad, the president is calling on one of the State Department’s most respected voices in the Middle East, a diplomat with decades of experience who has been ambassador to Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.
Finally, in an apparent attempt to lure Democrats to his side in advance of his address to the nation next week, Mr. Bush was conferring today with a dozen or more senators, critics as well as supporters. Among those reportedly being wooed by the president were two Democrats considered moderate to conservative, Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
The president’s overtures also underlined a political reality for the Democrats: while they have a relatively comfortable 233-to-202 margin in the House, their edge in the Senate could not be narrower: 51 to 49, counting the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
Mr. Lieberman, who lost the Democratic primary at least in part because of his support for Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, warned today against any stampede to get out of Iraq.
“Americans are frustrated, Americans are angry, and that anger and frustration is justified,” said Mr. McCain, who has advocated an increase in troops. “But when you ask most Americans should we get out right away, most of them say no.”
Mr. Lieberman said he hopes the president’s proposals do not set off “partisan political combat or some kind of inside-the-Beltway compromise.”
“We’re talking about war here,” Mr. Lieberman said. “We’re talking about security. We’re talking about terrorism. And we’ve got to try to do what’s right for victory in Iraq.”