Thursday, January 11, 2007

Democrats yesterday attacked President Bush’s new plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and began laying the groundwork for a showdown between the executive and legislative branches over war powers.

“Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election,” Democratic Whip Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said last night in his party’s response to Mr. Bush’s prime-time presentation of his Iraq strategy changes.

“Instead of a new direction, the president’s plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction.”

The new Democratic-led Congress plans to grill Bush administration officials during Capitol Hill hearings on the Iraq war — beginning this morning when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates testify before congressional committees.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Americans want to know whether Mr. Bush’s strategy is a “change of course.”

“Or is this simply more of the same with slightly different rhetoric?” Mr. Schumer said.

Miss Rice will testify before the Senate and House foreign relations committees today, and Mr. Gates, who replaced the war’s architect Donald H. Rumsfeld last month, will testify before the House Armed Services Committee today and the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow.

Democratic leaders also are drafting a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop surge, which they want to put up for a vote in both the House and Senate next week and which they think some Republicans will support.

“The issue is: Do you support the president’s policy? That will be the vote,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and a favorite of conservatives, last night said Mr. Bush’s troop surge is not the answer.

“Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution,” he said.

Mr. Bush said he will send more than 17,000 soldiers to Baghdad and 4,000 Marines to the Anbar province to try to break the cycle of violence and “hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” He said Iraq has responsibilities that it must meet.

“The president knows there is no silver bullet to make our mission there easier, but he is committed to a new, better strategy that will move us toward a stable Iraq,” said House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

“It is not the responsibility of members of Congress to dictate strategy to the commander in chief, who is ultimately responsible, along with the commanders on the ground, for implementing a winning strategy.”

But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said that if neither the hearings nor the anti-troop surge resolution change Mr. Bush’s stance, he will move forward with a bill in “a matter of days” that would require the president to seek congressional approval for a troop increase.

“What we really ought to be having is a surge of political initiatives, rather than a surge of military initiatives,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Some senators said yesterday that they would support such a move, but Democratic leaders on Tuesday appeared to brush aside Mr. Kennedy’s proposal.

If Mr. Kennedy’s idea gains momentum and comes to the Senate floor, the president’s war powers under the Constitution’s Article II would be at issue.

Congress voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002, and under the Constitution, the president is the “commander in chief” of the nation’s military and has authority to prosecute a war as he sees fit.

Mr. Kennedy’s bill, however, says that the 2002 authorization no longer applies to the current situation, which Democrats view as a civil war with U.S. troops caught in the crossfire.

“The mission of the Armed Forces of the United States in Iraq no longer bears any resemblance to the mission of the Armed Forces authorized by Congress in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002,” Mr. Kennedy’s proposal reads.

Mr. Bush’s position is that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror and that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, some backed by Iran, want to drive U.S. troops out of Iraq and then launch attacks on American soil.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said the president “did not take the easy path, but he took the correct and courageous course.”

“Defeat in Iraq would result in a moral and strategic setback in our global struggle against Islamist extremists who seek to strike our interests and our homeland,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Likely Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2008 have taken a range of views on Iraq.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, called the troop increase “a mistake that I and others will actively oppose in the days to come.”

“Escalation has already been tried and it has already failed, because no amount of American forces can solve the political differences that lie at the heart of somebody else’s civil war,” he said.

Former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, wants an immediate withdrawal, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has said she opposes a surge but has kept a low profile this week on Capitol Hill.

Among Republican 2008 hopefuls, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, is one of the strongest supporters of sending more troops.

Mr. McCain has said such an increase must be “substantial and sustained” to make any difference in Iraq. He said last week that, at a minimum, five brigades of 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers should be sent to Baghdad, and two more brigades should be sent to the troublesome Anbar province.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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