Bush’s new plan facing uphill battle on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON (AP) — President George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq is already running into trouble on Capitol Hill, with Republicans joining Democrats in raising eyebrows before the president even makes his case.

Bush, who met on Saturday with his national security team, has tapped new military commanders to lead the war effort and will disclose a new war strategy as early as Wednesday that is expected to include political, military and economic components.

The military solution, which has attracted the most attention and scepticism from Congress, probably will call for an increase in US troops, possibly 9,000 additional troops deployed to Baghdad alone.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shot down the suggestion of more troops within a day of gaining control of Congress.

“We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq,” the two wrote in a letter to Bush. Instead, Pelosi and Reid urged Bush to begin pulling troops out in four to six months.

Bush told more than a dozen senators Friday that he would settle on the option only if the Iraqi government offered certain guarantees, according to senators who attended the meeting.

While lawmakers said they were willing to wait and see the entirety of Bush’s plan before dismissing it entirely, members — including some Republicans — said they remained deeply sceptical about sending more troops.

“My conclusion was that it would be a mistake to send more troops to Baghdad. I think the sectarian violence there requires a political, not a military, solution,” said Republican Senator Susan Collins, who had not had a chance yet to meet with the president.

Republican Representative Heather Wilson, an air force veteran and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she would not support increasing troop levels “to do for the Iraqis what the Iraqis will not do for themselves.” “I also have not seen a clarity of mission, and I think that’s the greatest weakness that we have right now,” Wilson said. “We’re talking about goals in lofty terms that are not vital American national interests. American troops should only go in harm’s way to protect America’s vital interests.” Even Republican Senator John McCain, who advocates sending more troops in Iraq, said he would not support sending in the additional forces unless the number was adequate enough to finally tamp down the violence.

“I need to know if it’s enough or not,” McCain said.

McCain and Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent, said they think at a minimum another three to five  brigades should be sent to Baghdad and one more to Anbar province.

About 3,500 troops are in a brigade. About 140,000 US troops are in Iraq now.

Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, who was among the small group of senators who met with the president Friday, said he felt Bush was aware of the high stakes and knew he would have to sell any plan to the American public.

Bush suggested to the senators there would be “the expectation of the Iraqis carrying out their part of the deal or else”. But Nelson said he and others remained reluctant to endorse any plan that would further stretch the military.

“I don’t think there was anything partisan about the scepticism,” he said.

Briefings with lawmakers were expected to continue through next week, culminating in a meeting with bipartisan leadership Wednesday, according to lawmakers and aides.

To implement his changed policy in Iraq, Bush is tapping new generals to lead the military campaign.

Bush will nominate Adm. William Fallon, who commands American forces in the Pacific, to replace Gen. John Abizaid as top US commander in the Middle East. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, is slated to replace Gen. George Casey as top American general in Iraq. Casey in turn will replace the retiring Gen. Peter Schoomaker as army chief of staff. Lawmakers said they were pleased with Bush’s selections.

“I hope he matches it with a new strategy that will shift responsibility for security to Iraqis and begin the responsible redeployment of American forces,” said Democratic Representative Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

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