WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that an effort in Congress to pass a resolution opposing President Bush's troop buildup undercuts U.S. commanders in Iraq and "emboldens the enemy."
Gates, at his first Pentagon news conference since taking office Dec. 18, was asked whether he thought a formal rebuke of Bush's plan would offer Iraqi insurgents new hope.
"It's pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries," Gates replied.
"I think it's hard to measure that with any precision, but it seems pretty straightforward that any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks," Gates said, referring to the antigovernment forces in Baghdad.
He also said the Pentagon was hoping to speed up the deployment of five additional Army brigades to Baghdad to bolster security in the capital. They had been scheduled to arrive a brigade per month through May, each containing roughly 3,500 troops.
Gates' language, along with Bush's own comments, underscored the high stakes in a Senate battle expected to escalate next week over proposals from both parties criticizing the president's war strategy.
At the White House yesterday, the president challenged lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup, saying, "I'm the decision maker" on troop levels.
Vice President Cheney said earlier this week that the buildup would proceed even if a nonbinding resolution supported by some Republicans as well as Democrats won approval in the full Senate.
Bush spoke to reporters in the Oval Office after meeting with Gates and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus won Senate confirmation yesterday to replace Gen. George Casey as the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The vote was 81-0.
With his showdown with Congress drawing near, the president challenged those who favor a legislative rebuke of the troop buildup to put forward an alternative.
"I know there is skepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," he said. "They have an obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work."
House Republicans are proposing an advisory committee to report regularly on the progress of Bush's plan in an effort to measure how well it is - or isn't - working to quell sectarian violence in Iraq.
Democrats showed little sign of backing down. Emphasizing Congress' intention to play a major role in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) led a group of lawmakers there. They met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior U.S. commanders.
"American forces should quickly begin to transition from a combat role to one focused on training, counterterrorism, force protection, and controlling Iraq's borders," the delegation said in a written statement, espousing a policy embraced by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group but not the administration.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D., Md.) said the House would vote shortly after the Senate on a nonbinding measure "that makes clear that we need a real change in course, that the president's escalation proposal does not serve our national interests."
Senate Democrats are to start debate next week on a resolution opposing Bush's decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.
Petraeus, who served in command positions in Iraq twice previously, has said he needs all the extra troops to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Gates said that the Pentagon would see if there were ways of speeding up at least some of the brigades.
Bush said he wanted Petraeus to head to Baghdad as quickly as possible to implement his new strategy, which includes economic development as well as more troops.
A small number of active
military troops will take part
in today's rally in Washington against the Iraq war,
cofounders of an active-duty protest group say.
One of the founders of Appeal for Redress, Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, said he planned to speak at the protest on the National Mall. Hutto is a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, currently
at Norfolk, Va.
Hutto and Liam Madden, a Marine sergeant who received his discharge Jan. 20, founded Appeal for Redress, an organization of 1,200 active-duty personnel and veterans who favor a U.S. exit from Iraq.
Hutto said 60 percent of the members had been in Iraq operations. He said he was on the Roosevelt off Iraq from September 2005 through March 2006. Madden said he was in Anbar province from September 2004 to February 2005.
Hutto estimated more than a dozen individuals on active duty would attend today.
Cynthia O. Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman,
said members of the Armed Forces can speak out, subject to several restrictions.
They must "not do so in uniform, and must make clear that they do not speak on behalf of their military unit, service or the Department of Defense, unless they are authorized to do so," she said.
- Associated Press