Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Senators Feel Weight of Iraq Vote ; the Democratic-Controlled Congress Must Decide If Resolutions Opposing Bush's War Strategy Will Be Stern ... or Bipartisan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Senators Feel Weight of Iraq Vote ; the Democratic-Controlled Congress Must Decide If Resolutions Opposing Bush's War Strategy Will Be Stern ... or Bipartisan

Article excerpt

Back in 1971, Vietnam veteran John Kerry gave a face to the antiwar movement with a single question in televised testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

This week, Senator Kerry reprised the argument before the same panel: "How many of you here at this table believe what's happening [in Iraq] is a mistake today?" he asked, as the Foreign Relations Committee took the first congressional step opposing the strategy in Iraq since lawmakers authorized the use of force in 2002.

In the end, 12 senators - all the Democrats on the panel plus one Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - backed a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq. The vote came 16 hours after Mr. Bush appealed to lawmakers, in his State of the Union address, to give his plan to add 21,500 US troops to the forces fighting in Iraq "a chance to work."

As the resolution moves to the full Senate next week, it's clear that deep disagreements exist within each party over how best to express doubts about the Iraq war. The result is a vivid - and very public - grappling over the terms of their disagreement.

At issue is whether the new Democrat-controlled Congress should aim for the strongest resolution opposing the troop buildup, or the one most likely to draw the largest bipartisan vote.

Even Republican senators on the foreign relations panel who did not vote for the resolution expressed serious doubts about the way the president is waging the war. But these were not enough to overcome their worries that their words could have unintended consequences - from undermining US troops to further isolating a commander in chief determined to go his own way.

"The president is deeply invested in this plan, and the deployments opposed by the resolution have already begun," warned Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, the committee's ranking Republican, before the vote on Wednesday. "This resolution will increase the divide between the executive and legislative branches that is already unacceptably wide," he added, cautioning his colleagues not to give in to frustration with a White House that has not listened to the Congress in the past.

Those concerns are at the center of intense negotiations, as senators grapple with how to find words that will bring enough Republicans on board to get the attention of the White House, but not send a message of defeat to the troops.

The White House and its supporters on Capitol Hill want to avoid any language that will undercut the troops or undermine the mission of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, whom the Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed to command US and multinational forces in Iraq.

"The goal is to try to salvage this thing and not send additional troops over with a message of disapproval from the Congress," says Sen. …

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