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Doubts About Bush’s Strategy And About Alternatives Growing January 19, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Military News, Politics, US News, White House.
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By Barry Schweid
An AP NEWS ANALYSIS

WASHINGTON (AP)–President George W. Bush’s proposal for a modest boost in U.S. troop strength in Iraq and a few changes in tactics is drawing a frosty reception on Capitol Hill.

Retired U.S. military chiefs and members of Congress are casting about for alternatives to Bush’s plan to counter the insurgency and limit U.S. and Iraqi casualties.

At the same time, demands are rising for withdrawal of the 130,000 or so U.S. troops or at least planning for a pullout. So is the U.S. death toll, which has surpassed 3,000.

“Since we didn’t have a real plan for getting in we should have a real plan for getting out,” Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said Thursday at a four-hour Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

A resolution promoted mostly by Democrats to express disapproval of Bush’s new strategy is gathering momentum and beginning to attract Republicans.

The committee will take it up Wednesday, not coincidentally the day after Bush’s highest profile appearance of the year, delivery of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

The resolution is more an expression of frustration and even anger than a prescription for action. That is, it cannot stop the administration from going ahead.

But the debate could heighten charged rhetoric, as the administration fights back and its critics press their case.

“Many members have genuine and heartfelt opposition to troop increases,” said Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the committee.

What has not materialized yet, inside or outside Congress, Lugar said, is a majority in support of one specific strategy.

There are advocates for the president’s plan, for troop increases larger than Bush’s 21,500, for partition of Iraq, for an immediate withdrawal of the U.S. forces there, and on and on.

The four retired senior U.S. officers who testified were just as divided on what to do to try to turn the situation around, although they generally agreed that Bush’s plan would not work.

“It’s a fool’s errand,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

“It is far too little and too late,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar.

They and the two other retired Army experts, Lt. Gen. William Odom and Gen. Jack Keane, offered a range of tactics that they thought might work.

Keane suggested the focus be placed on protecting Iraqi civilians and their neighborhoods through joint deployment of U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who supports the mostly Democratic resolution, expressed skepticism over the flailing about.

The president’s plan is “doomed to failure,” he said.

“We are in a box and putting our soldiers and Marines in more of a box, and asking them to do things they cannot do,” Hagel said.

He saw no magic formula for success in Iraq.

When the discussion turns to withdrawal, the options and concerns are multiple. Should a sizable portion of the U.S. force remain in Iraq for such missions as training Iraqis? Should they remain in the area, in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for instance, available for emergency action?

If the troops should be withdrawn, should they leave on a timed and irreversible schedule? What preparations could be taken to minimize the risk of their being attacked as they leave?

So far, the debate has been relatively civil.

But Lugar, an experienced and even-tempered legislator, is not sure the mood will not change.

“In such a political environment, we risk having reasoned debate descend into simplistic sloganeering,” said the 30-year Senate veteran.

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