- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

3:18 p.m.

Republican lawmakers, usually a rooting section for President Bush, will give him a tough audience tonight as he tries to persuade the nation that all is not lost in Iraq and that the U.S. military should send more troops.

“I do not support sending any additional troops,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican. “If we can achieve a victory, it’s going to have to be realistic.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said that in the beginning she thought more troops were needed, but “putting more troops in now depends on where they will go and what they will be doing.” She added that “it’s just too early to tell” whether she will support a surge.

“We haven’t heard the president yet,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Democrats can peel off at least nine Republican senators to sign a resolution against more troops.

The president’s speech tonight likely marks his last chance to begin persuading Americans, including leaders within his own party, that U.S. national security is directly tied to what happens in Iraq, senators said.

“The case hasn’t been made well enough,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, one of the boldest proponents in Congress for sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. “It starts with the president, but we’ve all got to make the case.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president “will not shape policy according to public opinion, but he does understand that it’s important to bring the public back to this war and restore public confidence and support for the mission.”

Mr. Lieberman supports the plan to send about 25,000 to 30,000 additional troops to Baghdad and to Anbar province. Mr. Bush is expected to announce an increase of about 20,000 tonight.

“One of the key elements of national power is public support,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.

Mr. Reed said Americans are “increasingly skeptical” of the president’s course in Iraq.

However, Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said he thinks the president has “a six-month to a year window,” starting with tonight’s speech, to convince Americans that Iraq affects their daily lives.

“I don’t think the American people may totally buy into the danger and the threat that the president has articulated, but I think they’re concerned enough … to allow him an opportunity to get this right and to put the necessary force on the ground to win,” Mr. Thune said.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said he is “appropriately skeptical” of sending more troops but is not closed to the idea.

Mr. Lott also said the president’s rhetoric will be just as important as the content of his message.

“I think you have to make it clear that you understand the difficulty of the problem and you understand the concerns the American people have,” Mr. Lott said.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans have debated this week over what message a troop surge or withdrawal would send to Iraqis and the Middle East.

Most Democrats say the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, must do more to stabilize the country by defusing sectarian fighting and that a troop surge would only reward mediocrity.

“Sending those troops in gives a message to the Iraqis that is completely wrong,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “Stand up and fight for your own country — that’s the message we should be sending.”

However, Mr. Lieberman wrote in a letter to the president sent Monday that drawing down troop levels in Iraq would convince Iran, al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the Middle East that the U.S. is “a paper tiger.”

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