Wednesday, January 31, 2007

For many in the Senate, they were for a surge of troops in Iraq before they were against it.

“We don’t have enough troops in Iraq,” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said in 2005.

In 2004, he told NBC’s Tim Russert some things he believes “very deeply.”

“Number one, we cannot fail,” Mr. Kerry said. “I’ve said that many times. And if it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos, that can provide the groundwork for other countries, that’s what we have to do.”

He no longer believes that now. He is among at least a dozen Democratic senators who in the past have called for more troops in Iraq but now support a resolution condemning President Bush’s plan to do just that. Many Republicans who voted for the war now plan to support a no-confidence resolution, including Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who in the past had warned that the war would be a long, tough slog and that Americans should “speak with one voice.”

The Senate will begin debating that resolution — or variations on it — this week, perhaps as early as today.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. has for years advocated increasing the number of troops on the ground in Iraq. But after Mr. Bush offered his proposal to do that earlier this month, the Delaware Democrat drafted a resolution rejecting the idea as not “in the national interest.”

In June 2005, he said, “There’s not enough force on the ground now to mount a real counterinsurgency.”

“They’re going to need a surge of forces,” he said in another interview.

By last week, Mr. Biden had reversed his war strategy.

“The president and others who support the surge have it exactly backwards,” he told reporters.

As late as last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was still open to the idea of a surge.

“If it is for a surge — that is, two or three months and it’s part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year — then sure I’ll go along with it,” said the Nevada Democrat who voted for the war in 2002. “If the commanders on the ground said this was just for a short period of time, we’ll go along with that.”

After Mr. Bush laid out his plan to increase troops, the Democratic leader flatly rejected it.

“The surge is a bad idea,” Mr. Reid said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Democrats say that the time for a surge has long passed and now that the war has become so bloody and so unpopular, it’s time to pull the plug.

“The bottom line is that you cannot unscramble an omelet,” House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, California Democrat, said yesterday.

“The serial mistakes of the administration, with which we are all familiar — inadequate number of troops, dismissing the Iraqi military, failure to crack down during the early looting — are all issues that we cannot unwind with history,” said Mr. Lantos, who visited Iraq over the weekend. “Things that should have been done 3 years ago cannot now be done and expect positive results.”

Finding examples of such evolution among Republicans isn’t as easy, mainly because Republicans in Congress have been so uncritical of the administration for its handling of the war.

One stark exception is Mr. Hagel, who is considering a run for the presidency and has been one of the harshest critics of the war and the Bush administration’s handling of it.

“There is no strategy,” he said last week. “This is a pingpong game with American lives.”

But he hasn’t always opposed the war. He voted for it.

“There are no easy answers in Iraq,” Mr. Hagel said on Oct. 9, 2002, before voting to authorize the war. “The decision to commit our troops to war is the most difficult decision members of Congress make. Each course of action we consider in Iraq leads us into imperfect, dangerous and unknown situations. But we cannot avoid decision on Iraq. The president cannot avoid decision on Iraq. The risks of inaction are too high. We are elected to solve problems, not just debate them. The time has come to chart a new course in Iraq and in the Middle East.”

A veteran of the Vietnam War, he also warned his colleagues that an Iraq war would be a long, tough slog.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “The risks should not be understated, miscast or misunderstood. Ours is a path of both peril and opportunity with many detours and no shortcuts.”

And Mr. Hagel warned them against sowing seeds of division with hot rhetoric.

“America — including the Congress — and the world, must speak with one voice about Iraqi disarmament, as it must continue to do so in the war on terrorism,” he said. “Because the stakes are so high, America must be careful with her rhetoric and mindful of how others perceive her intentions.”

Mr. Hagel co-authored the resolution with Mr. Biden rebuking Mr. Bush and his “escalation” plan.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, also has drafted with others a nonbinding resolution that condemns the plan but, he said, does so more gently.

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