WASHINGTON - Prominent Democratic senators who oppose the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq took issue yesterday with criticism from Bush administration officials who have said that opposition to the president's new strategy will embolden the enemy.
"It's not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's the failed policy of this president - going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely."
On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said a congressional resolution against the buildup could demonstrate "flagging will" by the United States and potentially embolden "the enemy and our adversaries."
His comments echoed those made earlier in the week by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new top commander in Iraq.
Vice President Cheney also has spoken critically of the resolution. In an interview with Newsweek magazine released yesterday, he cited "significant progress" in Iraq and said the war was part of a long-term fight against extreme elements of Islam.
"It's not something that's going to end decisively, and there's not going to be a day when we can say, 'There, now we have a treaty, problem solved,' " he said. "It's a problem that I think will occupy our successors maybe for two or three or four administrations to come."
Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.), a former Navy secretary and U.S. Marine who is a leading critic of the war, appeared yesterday on CBS's Face the Nation and said Gates was wrong.
"First of all, who's the enemy?" Webb asked, "Who are they talking about? Are they talking about Iran? Are they talking about the insurgents? Are they talking about al-Qaeda?"
Biden, speaking on ABC's This Week, said he thought as few as 20 senators believed Bush's plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq was the "right direction" for U.S. strategy.
The Foreign Relations Committee voted last week to support a resolution written by Biden and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) that opposes the troop increase. Hagel was the only Republican on the committee to support the resolution, although many spoke against the troop buildup.
A second, more gently worded measure opposing the troop increase, drafted by Sen. John Warner (R., Va.), has drawn support from five additional Republican senators.
Debate on the resolutions could begin as soon as this week.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said that rather than taking a "show of hands," Congress should try to work constructively with Bush.
Lugar, who appeared with Biden on This Week, said the resolutions "are not helpful to Gen. Petraeus, to the troops, to the Iraqis . . . but we do need some policies that will be helpful, and hopefully our committee can be constructive in forging those."
On Face the Nation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said he was appealing to members of his party not to support the Biden or Warner resolutions.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) one of the strongest supporters of the troop buildup, is crafting an alternative resolution that would call for benchmarks against which to measure the Iraqi government.