MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The new Democratic leaders in Congress sent President Bush a letter today opposing any increase or surge in the number of ground forces in Iraq.
A few miles from The Capitol, in downtown Washington, a conservative think-tank was pushing the opposite idea. The American Enterprise Institute unveiled its final plan calling for substantial increases in the number of troops in Iraq by as much as 25,000. NPR's Guy Raz was there, and he prepared this story.
GUY RAZ: The table of roast-beef wraps and chocolate-chip cookie bars was a nice touch, but even if the American Enterprise Institute hadn't shelled out for free finger foods, you can bet this talk still would've packed them in.
Unidentified Woman: Good morning everybody, welcome to the American Enterprise Institute. Happy New Year.
RAZ: This event is what you might call Washington's version of an L.A. movie premiere, except there's no movie. What all these people have come to hear is the unveiling of a policy paper. And here's the basic crux of it, as laid out by Frederick Kagan, a military historian and the paper's main author.
Dr. FREDERICK KAGAN (Military Historian): We need to send in more force than we think is necessary because we are facing an enemy, and it is a thinking, adaptive, reactive enemy who will try to defeat us, and we need to be able to respond to the enemy's counter-moves, and that means that we need to have forces available in-theater that can react immediately to what the enemy does. We must not low-ball this.
RAZ: By now, you've probably figured out that Kagan's paper calls for more troops. About 25,000 is the number he's pushing. And Kagan and his main co-author, retired Army General Jack Keane, want the president to come out and say we're sending more troops in, and they're going on for the long haul.
Mr. KAGAN: And this takes time. Those who would suggest that we can surge an operation for three to six months makes no military sense to me whatsoever.
RAZ: Now, AEI isn't just another Washington wonk factory. It's become, and I don't say this lightly, a kind of unofficial policy shop of the Bush White House, which is why these guys…
(Soundbite of political protest)
RAZ: …were protesting against the plan outside AEI's building today. Tom Massey, the organizer and the man who runs the liberal anti-war group moveon.org, says Washington policymakers who listen to AEI are…
Mr. TOM MASSEY (Director, moveon.org): …like a heroine addict going back to the needle.
RAZ: And the needle he's talking about here is the idea that Iraq can be won, which is exactly what Arizona Senator John McCain said inside the AEI meeting at almost exactly the same time.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): And I believe that the war is still winnable, but to prevail, we'll need to do everything right, and the Iraqis will have to do their part.
RAZ: McCain is just back from a visit to Iraq. He went with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, and the two men were at AEI this afternoon to endorse the think-tank's plan. This is Lieberman.
Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Look, I hope that even colleagues of ours who disagree that there ought to be an increase in troops, if the president makes that recommendation, they let us try it.
RAZ: And here's something you can try. Over the weekend, go to AEI's Web site, aei.org. Read their Iraq proposal carefully, and then next week, when the president comes out to announce his new Iraq strategy, compare and contrast, and don't be surprised if they look a lot alike. Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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