Despite risks, GOP lawmakers stick with Bush on war
Only a handful of Republicans supported House and Senate proposals this week to change course in Iraq, leaving majority Democrats short of veto-proof majorities.
Despite misgivings over the war in Iraq, Republicans on Capitol Hill rallied this week to give President Bush two more months to improve prospects for security and political reconciliation there.Skip to next paragraph
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That support is key to the future course of US policy in Iraq. Unless more Republicans swing to their side, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate don't have the votes to pass war legislation that can survive a presidential veto. But support for Mr. Bush's strategy is fragile among many GOP lawmakers and it will be tested again next week in the Senate.
Just seven hours after the release of President Bush's interim report on progress in Iraq, the US House of Representatives voted 223-201 to begin drawing down US forces in Iraq. But only four Republicans joined the revolt – well short of the two-thirds needed to overturn a promised presidential veto.
On the Senate side, seven GOP lawmakers this week backed a bipartisan amendment to curb the president's ability to rapidly redeploy men and women into combat. But that, too, left Democrats four votes short of the 60 needed to move controversial legislation in the Senate.
The move, sponsored by Sens. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia and Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, both combat veterans, would have guaranteed rest time at home for US forces comparable to their previous deployments. Under such limits, the Pentagon could not sustain troop "surge" levels of 160,000 in Iraq through the spring, critics said.
There will be more key votes in the Senate next week on the $648.8 billion defense authorization bill. Proposed amendments range from a timetable for the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq to a call to adopt the 2006 Iraq Study Group's recommendations as official US policy.
But the White House and top GOP leaders are urging their colleagues to stay the course until Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, and US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker give Congress a full report on US strategy in Iraq by Sept. 15.
In a press briefing on his interim report, released Thursday, President Bush said that when the US begins drawing down its forces in Iraq, it will be because "our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it'll be good politics."
"The real debate over Iraq is between those who think the fight is lost or not worth the cost and those who believe the fight can be won, and that as difficult as the fight is, the cost of defeat would be far higher," he said
Of the 18 benchmarks of progress required by Congress, eight were ranked satisfactory, eight unsatisfactory, and two mixed. The report described the security situation in Iraq as "complex and extremely challenging" and said many key steps toward political reconciliation, including a new law to fairly distribute the nation's oil revenues, are lagging.
The government of Iraq, with substantial coalition assistance, has made satisfactory progress toward reducing sectarian violence but has shown unsatisfactory progress towards eliminating militia control of local security, the report concluded. Nor are the Iraqi security forces providing "even-handed enforcement of the law."
Citing such concerns, Democrats and some Republicans say there is already a strong case for changing the mission of US forces in Iraq. But critics have not yet found a new way forward that can rally enough votes to force the White House to change course.
"There's been very little progress [in Iraq], and I don't see that changing between now and September," says Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, who says she is not ruling out voting with Democrats to mandate a change in mission with a timetable.