Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Doubts Aside, No Move to Cut U.S. Troop Levels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Doubts Aside, No Move to Cut U.S. Troop Levels

Article excerpt

A long-anticipated Republican surge against the Iraq war faltered in Congress this week, prompting top Democrats to predict that bipartisan moves to wind down a US combat role aren't likely until next spring.

Republicans asked tough questions at oversight hearings on the war last week. None more so than Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, the former chairman on the Armed Services Committee.

His question to Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq - Does US strategy in Iraq "make America safer?" - marked a flash point in last week's hearings. (The general replied: "Sir, I don't know, actually.")

But the sharp-edged questions failed to translate into votes this week on a measure that antiwar forces saw as their best shot to force a change in course in Iraq. Votes this week also stalled moves toward a bipartisan consensus on the war and set the debate firmly back on a partisan basis.

"Now, Bush will wage the war as he sees fit right up until his last days, period," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, commenting on the outcome of the vote.

Instead of leading other GOP moderates into opposition against President Bush's war strategy, Senator Warner reversed a previous vote and sided with the White House on an amendment to the $648.8 billion defense authorization bill that would have required rest periods for US troops before deploying back into Iraq or Afghanistan.

Had the measure passed, it would have curbed Mr. Bush's ability to sustain current troop levels in Iraq. Warner's defection left Democrats four votes short of the 60 votes needed for it to advance.

The loss of Warner was a blow to supporters of the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, who had expected Warner not only to support the measure, as he had last July, but also to bring other GOP moderates along with him.

As chairman of the Armed Services Committee when Republicans controlled the Senate, Warner bucked the White House to investigate abuses in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in July 2004. Earlier the same year, he held hearings on why no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. With the GOP out of power, he introduced a bipartisan amendment last January disapproving of the "surge," and last month called on the president to bring 5,000 US troops home by Christmas.

That record, along with his much-cited questions during last week's oversight hearings on the war, led some Democrats to see this week's vote as a possible tipping point in bipartisan opposition to the war.

Until five minutes before Wednesday's vote, Senator Webb thought that Warner was still with him. "Senator Warner probably struggled with this right down to the wire," Webb said, after the vote. "The secretary of defense turned up the heat and made Senator Warner very uncomfortable. …

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