Lawmakers give Rice an earful
A senator who had supported the war said, 'I have not been told the truth.'
WASHINGTON -- Top congressional Democrats conceded Thursday that they probably can't block the 21,500-member troop increase that President Bush has ordered for Iraq, but said support is growing for using their power over spending to constrain his future war moves.
One day after Bush's evening address to the nation on his latest war plan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted "the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq."
Nevertheless, spurred in part by fear that Bush's plan could lead to combat with Iran and Syria, lawmakers from both parties gave Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a harsh reception as she tried to defend Bush's plan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I have to say, Madame Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a decorated Vietnam veteran, who compared Bush's plan to President Nixon's 1970 invasion of Cambodia, which expanded the Vietnam War.
Bush recently dispatched an aircraft carrier group and Patriot air-defense systems to the region, as he noted Wednesday when vowing to stop Iran and Syria from providing weapons and training to U.S. enemies in Iraq.
U.S. troops raided an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq on Thursday, detaining six people and confiscating computer files.
Separately, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that it was impossible to say how long the troop increase would last, but he added, "I think for most of us, in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months. Not 18 months or two years."
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said it was too late to block the increase of troops. "The surge, if that's what you'd like to call it, is under way," he said.
Instead, cutting off funds should be looked at as a long-term strategy, Durbin said. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are discussing how to cut off funding for future deployments.
House Democratic leaders haven't committed to any specific fund-restriction plan. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, is weighing attaching strings to war appropriations, such as preventing redeployment of troops until they've had 12 months' rest. Firm proposals may emerge when Murtha's panel holds hearings next week.
Skeptical of al-Maliki promise
On a related topic, skepticism abounded in Congress that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, would halt widespread killings by Shiite militias in Baghdad, as Bush said he would. Al-Maliki never has challenged the militias and depends on them for critical political support.
Rice acknowledged that al-Maliki's government has failed to go after Shiite death squads and get economic development funding to Sunni Muslim areas, as Bush's plan requires. But she said al-Maliki decided that his government "will in an even-handed fashion punish those violent people who are killing innocent Iraqis, whatever their sect, ethnicity or political affiliation."
Senators expressed doubts.
"Madame Secretary, I have supported you and the administration on the war, and I cannot continue to support the administration's position. I have not been told the truth," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he met with top Shiite officials in Baghdad three weeks ago and didn't get assurances they'd go after the Shiite militias. "You said this time they're going to make the difficult choices, and I'm not seeing that," he said.
"I'm not convinced, as I look to the plan that the president presented yesterday, that what we are seeing is that much different than what we have been doing in the past," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Some Republicans warned that Democrats could pay a political price if they try to cut off funds.
"If they try to cut off funding for the troops under any sort of guise, they may find their new majority short-lived," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
In related developments:
Bush spoke to troops and their families at Fort Benning, Ga., an Army training base, and warned that his new war plan "is not going to yield immediate results. It's going to take a while. ... It's going to require sacrifice."
Gates announced that he's recommending that the Army and Marines boost their numbers by 92,000 over the next five years. Gates also disclosed that he's changed Pentagon rules to permit shorter and more frequent call-ups of the National Guard and Reserves. Instead of calling individuals to 18 months of active duty, entire units now would be mobilized for one year at a time.
Anti-war groups led by MoveOn.org and Win Without War used the Internet to urge people to join what they said would be more than 1,000 rallies across America on Thursday night. Plans also called for citizens to tape 30-second messages to Bush and Congress and post them on Win Without War's Web site and on YouTube.
The Bush administration is expected to submit its supplemental budget for spending on the war in late February. House Democrats may not be able to attach conditions on such spending before March or April.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said lawmakers appear increasingly willing to try to tie Bush's hands by attaching conditions to war spending if it can be done without harming troops. "The whole financing process here is under intense scrutiny now," she said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reported that he'd asked Gen. David Petraeus, whom Bush named last week to head the U.S. military effort in Iraq, whether an increase of 21,500 troops would be enough to stem the violence.
"He said that five brigades in Baghdad and one brigade in Anbar province would give him the capability to execute this new strategy," Graham said.
In Baghdad, members of Iraq's parliament voiced similar skepticism. They told McClatchy Newspapers that Iraqi forces would first target Sunni insurgent strongholds before tackling neighborhoods controlled by Shiite militias.