- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Senate Republicans yesterday contradicted top Pentagon officials who say Congress would not injure troop morale by passing a nonbinding resolution critical of President Bush’s Iraq war plan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was outraged that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would say U.S. combat forces “understand” politics back home and won’t be disheartened by a symbolic no-confidence vote against the commander in chief.

“It shows a lack of sophistication about how this would play in newspaper headlines throughout the world,” said Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican.

“The war on terror is about headlines,” he told The Washington Times. “The last thing we need to do is give [terrorists] a headline by our political action that would embolden them, and by contrast would be hurtful to our men and women in the theater trying to execute the new strategy.”

Mr. Graham continued, “The only way we will ever lose in Iraq is if our will to succeed is broken.”

Mr. Gates and Gen. Pace did say that a resolution against the president’s plan to reinforce forces in Iraq with 21,500 more troops would send the wrong signal to al Qaeda and other U.S. enemies. Still, their remarks about morale undercut one of the chief arguments against the resolutions that would criticize Mr. Bush’s troop-surge plan.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said Gen. Pace and Mr. Gates were cornered into dismissing the impact on morale during their testimony Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

“I would hardly have expected either of them to have answered the question any differently,” he said, adding that he still thinks a resolution “will send the wrong message to our allies, to our enemies, and to our troops and their families.”

Mr. Kyl noted his speech last week in which he quoted three U.S. troops in Iraq who told NBC’s “Nightly News” that they take criticism of the war effort personally.

For instance, Mr. Kyl quoted Army Spc. Peter Manna, who said, “If they don’t think what we’re doing is a good job, everything that we’ve done here is all in vain — is all in vain.”

“They said what they said,” Mr. Kyl said. “So you can judge for yourself whether their morale was being affected.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, ducked questions about troop morale yesterday when calling for a vote on the resolution against reinforcements, along with a Republican resolution promising not to cut war funding.

“There will be one or more Republican alternatives that we will insist on being debated, and I’m going to engage in the substantive debate on that at that time,” Mr. McConnell said.

Senate Republicans cut off the war debate Monday by blocking a vote on a resolution that said the chamber “disagrees” with the reinforcement plan but supports Mr. Bush’s view that victory in Iraq is a critical objective.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner also said resolutions against the war plan threaten morale, even if they are “nothing more than political theater that means nothing.”

“I believe that it demoralizes our troops in the field,” the Ohio Republican said. If Democrats “are really serious about their intent to bring troops home, why not bring a real resolution to the floor and have a debate about whether, in fact, they should cut funding or not?”

The House will begin debating a resolution next week, with Democratic leaders hoping to succeed where the Senate failed.

Mr. Bush last month said he would send about 17,500 more soldiers to Baghdad to try to counter Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian violence that threatens Iraq’s fledgling government, and deploy an additional 4,000 Marines to Anbar province to combat al Qaeda fighters making a stand there.

The president has claimed the authority as commander in chief to proceed.

Democrats who oppose the troop increase were left with few alternatives: rescind the authorization to go to war, cut off funding for troops, or pass a nonbinding resolution that has no effect but lets members vent their feelings on the way the war is going.

Whatever happens in Congress, the White House said yesterday it will not get involved in the debate over nonbinding resolutions.

“This is an expression of opinion on the part of members of Congress, and therefore, it is appropriate to let them go ahead and express it,” said White House press secretary Tony Snow.

Mr. Snow said the debate is “healthy” but repeated his challenge that lawmakers must be careful of “what kind of message they’re sending.”

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