The White House said on Tuesday a planned congressional resolution against President George W. Bush’s U.S. troop increase in Iraq could send a signal to the world that America is divided on the war.
Bush’s “new way forward” for Iraq unveiled last week has faced heavy criticism from Democrats and skepticism — if not outright opposition — from many in the president’s own Republican party.
Plans are underway in both the House of Representatives and Senate for non-binding resolutions rejecting Bush’s plans to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq to help secure Baghdad and the restive Anbar province.
“Does this send a signal that the United States is divided on the key element of success in Iraq?” White House spokesman Tony Snow said lawmakers needed to ask themselves.
The goal for Democratic leaders of both houses will be to attract as many Republicans as possible. A large defection could make Bush look isolated politically.
But some Bush critics on Capitol Hill think a non-binding vote is not enough. One Democrat with presidential ambitions, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, told reporters that he will unveil a bill on Wednesday capping U.S. troops in Iraq at the current level of about 130,000, unless Congress approves more.
“It seems to me the American public wants something more than an expression of opposition. They’d like to see you do something about it,” Dodd said outside the Senate.
Bush pushed his plan in his second television interview in three days, and planned another pitch as part of his State of the Union speech next Tuesday.
Speaking on PBS’ “Newshour,” Bush said a U.N. report that 34,000 Iraqis were killed violently last year meant that “we better help this government stop the sectarian violence.”
Bush acknowledged he gets frustrated on the issue of Iraq “because I understand the consequences of failure.”
“If I didn’t believe we could keep the egg from fully cracking, I wouldn’t ask 21,000 kids — additional kids — to go into Iraq to reinforce those troops that are there,” he said.
He has an uphill battle in convincing Americans. A new poll by the Pew Research Center said 61 percent of Americans opposed his plan, while 31 percent favored it.
And the Bush administration was set to draw more criticism on Wednesday from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. who served under ex-President Clinton. She was expected to tell a House committee that Bush’s troop increase was more of a prayer than a policy.
While most Republicans supported Bush’s initiative, Democrats overwhelmingly opposed it, and a solid majority of Democrats, 62 percent, said Congress should try to block it by withholding funding for the additional troops, the poll found.
Snow said a negative vote in Congress could send a bad signal to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. He said a debate on the subject was welcome but that those opposing Bush’s policy should offer an alternative plan.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said he believed the House would pass a resolution expressing disapproval of the president’s troop increase, but said the Senate was going to move first.
Senate Democratic leaders hope to get the resolution introduced this week so the debate can take place next week.
Several active duty soldiers announced they were handing to Congress a petition with over 1,000 signatures of members of the military, calling for the United States to promptly withdraw its forces and bases from Iraq.
The war was “unjustified, unwinnable and unconscionable” declared 22-year-old Liam Madden, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines based at Quantico, Virginia.
Meanwhile some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee attacked the administration’s record on Iraqi refugees, especially those whose lives were threatened because they worked for American forces in Iraq.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said that last year the United States admitted only 202 Iraqi refugees. “A special immigrant visa for U.S. military Iraqi and Afghan translators currently has a six-year waiting list. We can do better than that,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Rick Cowan)
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