Democrats Oppose Plan to Boost Levels in Iraq

Wednesday night, President Bush made his case for increasing the number of troops in Iraq to 20,000. He insisted America has to win the war in Iraq, and admitted the government has made tactical mistakes. Farai Chideya talks with NPR's Guy Raz about the move, and Democrat's plan to hold a symbolic vote to show their opposition to it.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Last night, President Bush made his case for sending more U.S. Troops to Iraq. He recommended an increase of more than 20,000 soldiers and he insisted America has to win the war in Iraq even if public support is low and the government has made tactical mistakes.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

CHIDEYA: Adding more troops isn't just unpopular with the majority of Americans. It's also a tough sell to the president's own military advisers. And though congressional Democrats don't have power to block the move, they plan to hold a symbolic vote to show their opposition.

For more, we're joined by NPR's Guy Raz. Welcome.

GUY RAZ: Hi.

CHIDEYA: So where will these extra troops come from and what will they be doing?

RAZ: Well, right now, certainly in the near term, they're going to come from the active Army close combat units. Now essentially we're talking about ground forces, infantry soldiers, who are parts of what are called brigade combat teams.

The Army has a total of 39 brigade combat teams. Each one is made up of about roughly 3,500 troops. There are 15 in Iraq now and the president is sending an additional six, which will mean that more than half of the Army's fighting strength will be in Iraq by the middle of this year.

CHIDEYA: Well, proponents of the surge, including Senator John McCain, have lobbied for a much larger, longer-term boost. Is that even an option given what you're saying about the military deployment? And is there a reason that the president isn't asking for even more?

RAZ: Yeah, there is, Farai. And the main reason is because the Joint Chiefs, essentially the people who are in charge of this branch of the armed forces, are saying, this is the maximum we can give you. And now we've heard a lot about how the Joint Chiefs have been a bit reluctant to press for an increase. They know that their services are stretched, particularly the Army and the Marines. Their hands are tied in many ways. They can't draw from the National Guard and the reserve to the extent to which they would like to.

So the Joint Chiefs essentially told the president, look, the limit, the maximum number we can give you is 21,500, and that's the number the president went with.

CHIDEYA: Is the president really going to set a date or a standard by which to measure the success of the surge?

RAZ: You know, he didn't mention that in the speech last night, and that's a little bit odd because of course the president's main argument last night was that the surge - or he didn't use the word surge - but that the troop increase would bring about security and ultimately that will enable the Iraqi government to take the necessary measures to bring about stability in the country.

He didn't give a sense of how long the troops will be there, and he didn't essentially give any timeline as to when the American public can expect to see some progress in Iraq.

CHIDEYA: So how is Washington reacting to the president's speech?

RAZ: Almost overwhelmingly negatively. I mean, even members of the president's own party have been reluctant to back this in any sort of serious way. The Republican minority leader in the House, John Boehner, he essentially said last night that we should wait and see what the details of the plan are. I mean he didn't come out saying, yes, I'm backing an increase. There are very few members of the House or the Senate who are doing the same thing.

And clearly, the overwhelming majority of Democrats in both chambers very strongly opposed to this. They are going to call for a vote, a symbolic vote, really, to allow those members to show their opposition to this decision.

CHIDEYA: Well, Guy Raz, thanks so much.

RAZ: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: NPR's Guy Raz covers defense issues. He joined us from the Pentagon.

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