Democrats Unite in Defiance, but Not With a Plan

Beyond trying to stop the president's plan, there is little consensus on an alternative for Iraq. (Photo courtesy
Beyond trying to stop the president's plan, there is little consensus on an alternative for Iraq. (Photo courtesy

by Jake Tapper and Avery Miller, ABC News

On Capitol Hill Wednesday there was a surge in opposition to the president's plan to escalate troop levels in Iraq.

When it came to solutions, there were nearly as many alternatives to Bush's Iraq plan as there were Democrats. But Democrat after Democrat today -- some of them working in tandem with Republicans, some flying solo -- introduced plans to stop the surge.

It began first thing in the morning with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who is contemplating a presidential run. Dodd's bill would cap troop levels and demand that the president obtain congressional authorization for any increase in troops.

But Dodd was soon overshadowed by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., fresh from a weekend trip to Iraq, who upstaged her own press conference about her trip by announcing she was introducing legislation to stop the surge.

Clinton said she opposes "an escalation of U.S. troops, which I do not believe will contribute to long-term success in Iraq."

The bill she is set to introduce would cap troop levels at 130,000 and require congressional approval for any more. It would also stop funds for Iraqi security forces if sectarian militias remain a part of those forces, and it would require benchmarks for both the Iraqi government and the Bush administration, leading to the phased redeployment of troops and a stronger diplomatic effort in the region.

"It does lay down some markers about what we expect," she said.

Clinton readily admitted her bill had little chance of becoming law. "I can do the math," she said. But she wanted to go on record as pushing the Iraqi government -- and the White House -- to make more progress.

Clinton, considering a presidential run and facing skepticism among anti-war liberals, also voiced support for a bipartisan and nonbinding resolution offered by Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., declaring that "escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq ... is not in the national interest."

"Support is not there for the president's policy in Iraq," said Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The sooner he recognizes that reality and acts on it, the better off all of us will be."

That largely symbolic "sense of the Senate" resolution will need real bipartisan support to have any impact on the White House. By the close of business Wednesday, it had picked up support from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Strategy May Be Division

Beyond trying to stop the president's plan, there is little consensus on an alternative for Iraq.

Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, wants a phased withdrawal of troops so as to pressure the Iraqis to take control of their country. "We should tell the Iraqis that we're going to begin to reduce our troops in four to six months," Levin told CNN earlier this week. His bill enjoys much support among Senate Democrats, including that of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Biden has proposed partitioning Iraq into three semi-autonomous states -- Kurd, Sunni and Shiite.

On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supports the bill offered by Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's key subcommittee on defense, who wants to redeploy U.S. troops out of Iraq with a quick reaction force established nearby. "I think redeployment is a first step to stability in the Middle East," he said on ABC's "This Week."

And today, 74 members of the House "Out of Iraq" Caucus called for the complete withdrawal of all troops.

Those are just some of the policy ideas. Politically, Democratic strategists argue it makes no sense for their party to coalesce around one strategy -- they say they do not want ownership or blame for the president's war.

"There is a risk that becoming more assertive on Iraq means that they will share the responsibility and potentially share the blame," said P.J. Crowley of the Center for American Progress.

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