- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

1:22 p.m.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a House panel today that it should be clear in a few months whether the Iraqi government is making progress toward peace and whether the United States “is going to have to look at other alternatives and consequences.”

In stark contrast to predecessor Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Gates also said there is no doubt the Army and Marine Corps need to be larger if they are to deal with future wars and give troops enough rest between combat tours.

“We need the full range of military capabilities,” including ground combat forces to battle large armies and nimble special operations troops to scout out terrorist threats, Mr. Gates told the House Armed Services Committee.

“We don’t know what’s going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere,” he said.

Mr. Gates testified alongside Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the House was gearing up for its first full-fledged debate on the Iraq war since the Nov. 7 elections. House Democrats next week plan to bring to the floor a measure that would flatly oppose President Bush’s decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

Mr. Gates said yesterday that U.S. forces might be able to start leaving Iraq before the end of the year if daunting conditions including subdued violence and political reconciliation are met.

Democrats and several Republicans say they oppose the troop buildup and that it is time for the Iraqi government to step up to defend its own country.

Tired of waiting for an opportunity to try to stop the war in Iraq, some Democrats say they want to use legislation approving billions of dollars in war spending to insist that Mr. Bush not send more troops or bring troops home by a certain date.

“The longer we delay taking action, the greater the failure in Iraq and the larger the cost in American blood and treasure,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, who supports legislation that would cap the number of troops allowed in Iraq.

Sen. Barack Obama said he will push his legislation ordering troops out of Iraq by March 2008.

“This is not a symbolic vote,” the Illinois Democrat said of his proposal, which is backed by two House Democrats. “This is what I think has the best chance of bringing our troops home.”

Sen. John Kerry, who drafted a similar proposal, said Congress’ actions will be watched carefully by voters headed to the polls in 2008.

“If the Congress is going to procrastinate, if they refuse to debate the most important issue of our time .. then that is going to be clear issue in the context of ‘08,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have pledged to their rank-and-file that a vote on a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop buildup would merely be the first attempt to pressure Mr. Bush to shift course in the war. Other legislation will be binding, they said.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he hoped the measure in the House would attract Republican support.

Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and his party’s House leader, said he hoped the Republicans would be permitted to seek a vote on an alternative. If so, he said it would call for a bipartisan committee to oversee the war effort and lay out a series of benchmarks by which people could judge whether the Iraqi government was living up to its commitments to help quell the violence.

“If you’re not for victory in Iraq, you’re for failure,” Mr. Boehner said. “The consequences of failure are immense. I think it destabilizes the entire Middle East, encourages Iran, and on top of that, it’s pretty clear that the terrorists will just follow us home.”

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