- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that Congress’ push to oppose President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq “emboldens the enemy” and undercuts the commanders in the field.

Facing the prospect of a no-confidence vote in the Senate next week, Mr. Bush called for Congress to give his plan “a chance to work” before ruling it out. But opposition continues to build, with high-profile Republicans and Democrats who previously supported his stance announcing their opposition yesterday, saying the goal of a stable Iraq may be out of reach now.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John P. Murtha, the prominent anti-war Pennsylvania Democrat, made a surprise trip to Baghdad yesterday, boosting Congress’ profile as an equal branch in the decision-making process as the debate continues in Washington.

Mr. Bush and administration officials are trying to earn enough time to prove that his plan to increase troops by 4,000 Marines in the Anbar province and more than 17,000 soldiers in Baghdad can work. Mr. Gates said Democrats’ plan to vote on a nonbinding resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s plan would send the wrong signal.

“A resolution that, in effect, says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn’t have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries,” he said in his first press conference.

“Any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks. And I’m sure that that’s not the intent behind the resolutions, but I think it may be the effect,” Mr. Gates said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, called Mr. Gates’ statement “a desperate attempt” to bolster the president’s policy.

Mr. Bush and other administration officials have counted on the fact that all sides in the debate agree that victory is necessary. The president referred to that in his State of the Union address this week and again yesterday after a meeting with Mr. Gates and Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who was confirmed by the Senate yesterday to be the top commander in Iraq.

But members of Congress are increasingly talking about a vision of victory that is different from Mr. Bush’s picture of an Iraq that can “govern, sustain and defend itself.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer yesterday endorsed a phased withdrawal within six months. He deemed it an “alternative path” that, he said, “will not necessarily lead to the Iraq we would have liked to see at the onset of this war.”

The Maryland Democrat, who had been among the highest-ranking Democratic supporters when Mr. Bush went to war, said yesterday he would not have voted for the war knowing what he does now.

He said Mr. Bush botched decisions throughout the war and there is no indication that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can follow through on the benchmarks Mr. Bush and Congress all agree he must meet.

Mr. Hoyer said that in addition to the no-confidence resolutions that will come up for a vote in the Senate next week and in the House later, the House may consider a “revised authorization for the use of military force in Iraq that more accurately reflects the mission of our troops on the ground.” That would allow lawmakers to pare down the full grant of authority they issued in the 2002 vote that allowed Mr. Bush to go to war.

Also yesterday, former New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a potential Republican presidential candidate, announced his opposition to the troop surge, saying that Iraqi leaders have not proved they are ready to shoulder responsibility for democracy and that U.S. troops should instead focus on fighting al Qaeda.

“Let’s continue to hope, but let’s not put our troops in harm’s way simply on the basis of that hope,” he said.

Most prominent potential candidates have supported Mr. Bush’s call for more troops; but in a speech at Georgetown University, the three-term governor raised the possibility of a victory that falls short of the president’s vision.

“A functioning democracy throughout Iraq is not essential to our achieving a military victory over al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. Pataki said. “And I share the doubt of many that 20,000 additional troops alone will assure a successful democracy.”

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