National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Congress Gives Its First Response To Bush’s Iraq Plea

WASHINGTON — President Bush picked Iraq as his preemptive battleground nearly four years ago and now is asking a war-weary country to give his military escalation a chance to work.

On Wednesday, with the applause for his State of the Union speech just a fading memory, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its answer to Bush’s plea.

By a 12-9 vote, the panel approved a non-binding resolution telling Bush that his plan to escalate the U.S. military presence in Iraq was "not in the national interest." The full Senate will vote on the issue next week.

Bush is on the ropes as support for the unpopular war further erodes, both among American voters and in Congress. He is making a last stand for his "new path forward" strategy, despite growing nervousness among Republicans who are facing tough reelection battles in 2008.

A dramatic signal of the way the winds are blowing came this week when Sen. John Warner, R-Va., joined the dissenters to reject Bush’s escalation plan because he objects to inserting American military forces in the middle of an Iraqi civil war. The disenchanted Warner is the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who also has served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan and has been a powerful voice on military matters among Republicans.

In opposing Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, Warner urged the president to "go back and look at all the options."

"The American G.I. was not trained, not sent over there — certainly not by resolution of this institution — to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shia and the wanton and incomprehensible killing that’s going on at this time," Warner said Monday, the day when some 100 Iraqis were killed in a Sunni suicide attack on a Shia marketplace.

The vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was mostly along party lines, with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., the only Republican to vote for the resolution.

Hagel made a powerful statement during the committee debate when he warned his fellow senators: "We better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."

Vice President Dick Cheney responded quickly in a CNN interview: "It won’t stop us."

Cheney continued: Congress has "the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding. But in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision."

Also standing staunchly behind the president with a declaration that more troops are needed is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a presidential candidate who is seeking to bolster his support among Republican conservatives.

In many ways, Bush’s bereft policy on Iraq is so reminiscent of the Johnson and Nixon eras in dealing with the intractability of the Vietnam War. But the fault lay with those former presidents — as it does with Bush — in not knowing when to quit.

The late President Gerald Ford put retreat in perspective on the day that Saigon fell in 1975 after conservatives urged him to stay the course.

"It isn’t the end of the world," he said.


In a recent column about the No Child Left Behind program, I made two mistakes:

President Bush signed the law on Jan. 8, 2002, not Jan. 9, 2002.

The state of Utah did not bow out of the program, though Gov. Jon Huntsman and the state legislature enacted a law empowering the state to do so.


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