Bipartisan Group Stakes Out Middle Ground on Iraq

A bipartisan group of senior senators announces that they will offer a resolution of their own regarding the U.S. mission in Iraq. The lawmakers say they are seeking a middle course between President Bush's troop buildup and proposals to begin withdrawal.

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While the president's plan get sorted out on the ground in Iraq, some of Mr. Bush's fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill are putting more distance between themselves and the troop increase. Senior Republicans have suggested ways for lawmakers to register their discontent without endorsing a bipartisan resolution being taken up this week in the Senate.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: As a former secretary of the Navy and recent chair of the Armed Services Committee, Virginia Republican John Warner is one of the Senate's most influential members when it comes to military matters. Today, Warner joined two other Republicans and one Democrat to present a resolution he said simply accepts the president's offer to listen to suggestions. But Warner's sharp disagreement with the president's plan was clear as he read the resolution's key statement.

JOHN WARNER: The Senate disagrees with the plan to augment our forces by 21,500 and urges, I repeat, urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives for achieving our strategic goals enumerated above with reduced force level than proposed at 21,500.

WELNA: The resolution does not spell out which options the president should pursue, but it does stress that it should be Iraqis, not Americans, who deal with sectarian violence.

Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson contrasted this resolution with one introduced last week by Democrats Joseph Biden and Carl Levin and Republican Chuck Hagel, which referred to the president's escalating troop levels in Iraq. Nelson said the resolution introduced today steers clear of what he called partisan rhetoric.

BEN NELSON: It's important to send a strong message to the White House, and it's a stronger message when it has significant bipartisan support to be able to do that. This resolution will really, I think, be a very strong message to the White House.

WELNA: Another co-sponsor, Maine Republican Susan Collins said a trip to Iraq last month made clear to her the solution to Baghdad's violence is political, not military.

SUSAN COLLINS: I came back convinced that inserting more American troops into Baghdad, into the midst of a sectarian struggle, would be a major mistake. By contrast, I also am convinced that we do need more troops in Anbar Province, where the fight is not sectarian. The battle is against al-Qaida and foreign fighters.

WELNA: Still Warner left hope in the possibility of the president's plan succeeding, though he insisted it needs better benchmarks for measuring success.

WARNER: Let's try it maybe in one segment of Baghdad and let's see whether or not the Iraqis meet the benchmarks.

WELNA: Also this afternoon, House Minority Leader John Boehner was putting forward his own plan, calling for bipartisan monitoring of the troop build up and presidential reports on it every 30 days. Boehner insists that congressional Republicans still support the president.

JOHN BOEHNER: But there are a lot of members of our party who are skeptical that the plan will work because of its dependence on the new Iraqi government stepping up its activities. And as a result, I thought that more needed to be done to engage our members. And I think what we're trying to do here is to engage our members.

WELNA: For his part, Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl had only scorn today for those who questioned the president's Iraq plan.

JON KYL: It seems to me that all Americans should want this strategy to succeed. Why would anyone want the strategy to fail? Just to prove a political point? That doesn't make sense when we've got young men and women in harm's way and an awful lot riding on it, not just for Iraqis, but also for our own national security.

WELNA: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins considering the Iraq resolutions on Wednesday.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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