‘Benchmarks’ becomes new GOP buzzword


U.S. lawmakers backing President George W. Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq sought support by calling for Congress to set “benchmark” goals for the Iraqi government, but a top Democrat predicted on Sunday that few will stand with him.

“You will not find 20 percent of the Senate standing up and saying the president is headed in the right direction,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Even proponents of Bush’s plans to send 21,500 additional American troops into the nearly 4-year-old war said time is running out.

“In my mind, in my heart, this is clearly the final shot,” Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He added, “I’ve said this to the president.”

The Senate may begin debate as early as this week on bipartisan, non-binding resolutions, including one co-sponsored by Biden that passed his committee, in opposition of Bush’s plans to increase troops.

Backers of Bush’s efforts intend to offer alternatives that endorse the president’s troop buildup but also establish standards for the Iraq government, such as holding provincial elections and speeding up reconstruction.

“I’m not certain any of these (proposed resolutions) will get 60 votes,” needed to overcome potential procedural hurdles by opponents, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Proponents have said passing resolutions of opposition would mark the beginning of the end of the war. Bush has argued his plan deserves a chance to succeed.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a former Democrat turned independent, said he and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona were working on a “common-ground” resolution that would support Bush and establish benchmarks.

Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday” that they were seeking “to bring people in both parties together to say what we all apparently believe — maximizing the chances of success in Iraq are critical to everybody because America has a lot on the line.”

A Newsweek poll released on Sunday found Bush’s approval rating at 30 percent, the lowest of his presidency. It also showed that 67 percent of Americans believe Bush’s Iraq policy has been influenced more by his beliefs than facts.

In the House of Representatives , Republicans are drafting a resolution to set military, social and political benchmarks that would hold both Bush and Iraq accountable.

The Sunday talk shows became the latest forum for members of Congress, many of them, such as Biden, 2008 presidential hopefuls, to jockey for position.

Biden rejected administration charges that resolutions of opposition would undermine U.S. troop morale and embolden the enemy.

“It’s not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy,” Biden said.

“It’s the failed policy of this president, going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops,” Biden said.

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, another presidential hopeful, said on Fox that he would back a resolution by Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia that criticizes Bush’s overall planned troop buildup but backs his call for more forces in the western Anbar province.

On “Face the Nation,” Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican, said that although he opposes a troop increase he has not decided whether to vote against it.

McConnell said it was inevitable Congress will debate war funding in coming months, which should put more pressure on the Iraq government.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Eric Beech)

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