The escalation in Iraq violence and the potential need for more troops have split Democrats on Capitol Hill, with some such as Sen. Robert C. Byrd calling for a way to pull out and others saying the developments have strengthened bipartisan resolve to see the job through.
Mr. Byrd, the chamber’s senior Democrat, said yesterday that the Bush administration has “blundered” and that the United States should not be trying to increase troop strength. “We should instead be working toward an exit strategy,” he said.
“Surely, I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development. Surely, the administration recognizes that increasing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will only suck us deeper into the maelstrom of violence that has become the hallmark of that unfortunate country,” the West Virginian said on the Senate floor.
His criticism follows that by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who on Monday called Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam” and said the situation has created a credibility gap between the president and Americans.
But other Democratic leaders, while saying that the Bush administration hasn’t produced a plan for the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, acknowledge that the recent developments only unify the resolve of Republicans and Democrats alike.
“America will not be intimidated by barbaric acts whose only goal is to spread fear and chaos throughout Iraq,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said in a moving floor speech last Thursday after the initial attacks that began the weeklong string of violence.
“Yesterday’s events will only serve to strengthen America’s resolve and seal America’s unity. The brave people who lost their lives did not die in vain. Americans stand together today and always to finish the work we started and bring peace and democracy to the citizens of Iraq,” he said.
Mr. Daschle repeated those sentiments to reporters yesterday, and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, said on NBC’s “Today” show that the United States must “stay the course.”
“This is really as much a test of our perseverance as anything else,” he said, though he cautioned that Americans must be prepared for the conflict. “It’s going to be difficult. We’re going to have too many days ahead of tragedy like yesterday, unfortunately.”
The attacks last week have spawned a new round of examination of U.S. policy on Iraq among Washington lawmakers.
But it’s clear that Iraq remains just as divisive an issue in the Democratic Party as it was in October 2002, when 29 Democrats and 48 Republicans voted for the president to use force, and 21 Democrats, one independent and one Republican voted against it.
In the House, 81 Democrats joined 215 Republicans in supporting the use of force, and 126 Democrats, six Republicans and one independent opposed it.
The issue also was a major dividing line in the party’s presidential campaign, with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean jumping to an early lead on the strength of his opposition to Mr. Bush’s policy. Mr. Dean later dropped out of the race.
“I guess I need a scorecard to keep up with all these different players on different days,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
Republicans remain nearly unified in supporting the mission and opposing calls to pull out.
“Right now, at this moment, we need to send a message not only to the Sunnis in Iraq and the minority of Shias in Iraq that are taking up arms and killing Americans, that we are there to stay,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
Democrats do find unity on some issues concerning Iraq. For example, they roundly criticize the president for failing to secure broader international support and participation. And some Democrats and Republicans are joining to call for the United States to commit more troops.
“Our troops on the ground in Iraq now are too few in number to battle the insurgents and establish the civil order needed to ensure Iraq does not descend into civil war. We should apply the Powell doctrine of overwhelming military force in Iraq now to protect our troops and protect the Iraqi people from this new wave of violence,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, who called on Mr. Bush and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry to work out an agreement on deploying more troops.
Mr. Kerry has stayed clear of specifying what course he thinks should be taken in Iraq. But he is sharply critical of the administration’s policy, calling it “one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I’ve been in public life.”
He also hinted at a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam.
“Since I fought in Vietnam, I have not seen an arrogance in our foreign policy like this,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday in an interview with American Urban Radio Networks.
Earlier, in an interview on National Public Radio, Mr. Kerry called Sheik Mouqtada al-Sadr a “legitimate voice,” before immediately correcting himself and calling the radical Shi’ite cleric just “a voice.”
“It’s interesting to hear that when they shut a newspaper that belongs to a legitimate voice in Iraq and, well, let me change the term ‘legitimate.’ When they shut a newspaper that belongs to a voice, because he has clearly taken on a far more radical tone in recent days and aligned himself with both Hamas and Hezbollah, which is a sort of terrorist alignment,” Mr. Kerry said.
Republicans said the opposition was simply politics.
“Senator Kennedy attacked the president over Iraq earlier this week, while Senator Kerry defends the militants in Iraq. It’s an example of shameless political opportunism,” said Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.