Republicans: Bush plan flawed

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WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans pushed back Monday against President Bush’s decision to increase troop strength in Iraq, some voicing opposition while others urged holding the administration and Iraqi government more accountable for the war effort.

“We’ve had four other surges since we first went into Iraq,” said Sen. Susan Collins, referring to the administration’s plan for an additional 21,500 troops. “None of them produced a long-lasting change in the situation on the ground.

“So I am very skeptical that this surge would produce the desired outcome,” said the Maine Republican.

In the Senate, Collins joined two Republicans and one Democrat to unveil nonbinding legislation expressing disagreement with Bush’s plan. The president should consider “all options and alternatives” involving a smaller force, the measure said.

In the House, members of the leadership drafted a series of what they called “strategic benchmarks,” and said the White House should submit monthly reports to Congress measuring progress.

The developments occurred on the eve of Bush’s State of the Union address, and as Democrats pointed toward votes in the House and Senate on bills declaring that the troop increase is “not in the national interest of the United States.”

Republicans have struggled to respond in the two weeks since Bush outlined his new strategy. Though aware that the war played a role in the GOP defeat in last fall’s elections, most have been unwilling to abandon a president of their own party.

Both the Senate legislation and the action taken by the House Republican leaders are softer than the legislation that majority Democrats intend to place for a vote. But they also represent a more forceful response to the long and deadly war than the GOP offered while it held the majority in Congress.

More than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in the war, including 27 over the weekend and one more on Monday.

Democrats intend to make the war a part of their formal response to Bush’s nationally televised speech, tapping Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a Vietnam veteran and former Republican Navy secretary, to speak.

In an interview with reporters, Webb ridiculed Bush’s new strategy as “just a lot more flailing around rather than coming up with something specific that’s going to end our involvement.”

Sen. John Warner of Virginia, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Collins and Norm Coleman of Minnesota in producing the legislation expressing disagreement with Bush’s plan. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., joined them.

“I personally, speaking for myself, have great concern about the American G.I. being thrust into that situation, the origins of which sometimes go back over a thousand years,” Warner said.

Collins said some Republican senators did not feel comfortable with the Democratic-backed measure, but wanted to register their concern with Bush’s approach.

Unlike the measure backed by Democrats, Warner’s proposal would leave open the possibility of Bush sending a small number of additional troops to a specific region, such as Anbar province in the western part of Iraq.

Even so, the action taken by Collins, Coleman and him raised the number of Senate Republicans publicly opposed to the president’s plan to five. Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine have said they back the Democrats’ resolution.

In the House, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the party’s leader, said he supports Bush’s plan and that his backing is not conditional on the president agreeing to meet the standards that lawmakers laid out.

He said he had told the president “that the support is still strong among Republicans but there are a lot of our members who are skeptical that the plan will work” because of doubts that the Iraqi government will follow through on its commitments.

Boehner also released a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging her to appoint a special committee of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats to oversee the “implementation and progress of the president’s new strategy for success in Iraq.”

As the majority party, Democrats generally are entitled to more seats on House committees than Republicans, and it is unlikely Pelosi would agree to a different arrangement to monitor the war.

The House Republicans’ suggested “strategic benchmarks” apply largely to the Iraqi government, which has pledged additional troops to quell sectarian fighting and to restrain Shiite militia.

Republicans want the government to be measured on its cooperation with U.S. forces, its ability to purge its security forces of insurgents and their sympathizers and also on its ability to assure that Shiite, Sunni, Kurd and other groups are treated equally.

Democrats are expected to bring Iraq-related legislation to a vote in the days following Bush’s televised State of the Union address.

Warner said he would seek a vote on his alternative at the same time.

In the House, it was not clear whether Republicans intend to seek a vote on an alternative of their own, and if so, whether it would express support for Bush’s plan.



Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

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