The Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee dismissed President Bush's plans to increase troops strength in Iraq on Wednesday as "not in the national interest," an unusual wartime repudiation of the commander in chief.
The vote on the nonbinding measure was 12-9 and largely along party lines. "We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder," said Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, the sole Republican to join 11 Democrats in support of the measure.
Hagel's remarks were among the most impassioned of the day, and he was unstinting in his criticism of the White House. "There is no strategy," he said of the Bush administration's war management. "This is a pingpong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans; they're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder." A Vietnam veteran, he fairly lectured fellow senators not to duck a painful debate about a war that has grown increasingly unpopular as it has gone on. "No president of the United States can sustain a foreign policy or a war policy without the sustained support of the American people," Hagel said. At least eight Republican senators, including Hagel, say they now back legislative proposals registering objections to Bush's decision to boost U.S. military strength in Iraq by 21,500 troops
Sen. Joseph Biden, the panel's chairman, said the legislation is "not an attempt to embarrass the president. ... It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq."
The full Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the measure next week, and Biden has said he is willing to negotiate changes in hopes of attracting support from more Republicans. House Democrats intend to hold a vote shortly after the Senate acts.
Even Republicans opposed to the legislation expressed unease with the revised policy involving a war that has lasted nearly four years, claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and helped Democrats win control of Congress in last fall's elections. "I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed," said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, senior Republican on the committee. But he said in advance he would vote against the measure. "It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modification of our Iraq policy."