U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., laid down the gauntlet today, making the first formal effort to block President Bush's expected plan for a surge of American troops in Iraq with a bill that would block funding for the additional soldiers and offering clear comparisons to Vietnam.
Speaking a day before President Bush is expected to unveil a new strategy for Iraq, Kennedy, a senior member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would offer a new bill that would bar additional troops and additional money for new operations in Iraq without congressional approval.
The bill targets a key portion of the president's plan, which is expected to include some 20,000 new troops to quell violence in the capital of Baghdad for an indefinite period, despite polls that show that a clear majority of Americans are opposed to a new commitment of American troops. Even if Democrats can muster enough votes to pass Kennedy's legislation, it is unlikely they would be able to override a veto by President Bush.
"The American people sent a clear message in November that we must change course in Iraq and begin to withdraw our troops, not escalate their presence," Kennedy said. "An escalation, whether it is called a surge or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake. It would compound the original misguided decision to invade Iraq. We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops in Iraq. We must act to prevent it."
Kennedy has been a leading opponent of the Iraq war. He opposed the 2002 vote to give President Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq -- a vote he called "the best vote I've cast in my 44 years in the United States Senate" -- and has called for a withdrawal since January 2005.
Kennedy called Iraq a "quagmire" and drew repeated comparisons to Vietnam, a tactic that Democrats are likely to repeat in the coming months.
"In Vietnam, the White House grew increasingly obsessed with victory, and increasingly divorced from the will of the people and any rational policy. The Department of Defense kept assuring us that each new escalation in Vietnam would be the last. Instead, each one led only to the next. There was no military solution to that war," Kennedy said. "Echoes of that disaster are all around us today. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam."
While Kennedy's speech was well-received by war opponents, it remained doubtful that Democrats could or would stop the president's hand in calling for more troops in Iraq. Democrats are divided over whether to support the president's calls for a "surge."
"We went from deception to denial and now we're in delusion, a delusion that somehow sending more American troops into the field of battle, putting them in the midst of a civil war that finds its roots in history, 14 centuries old, that somehow placing our best and bravest, soldiers and Marines and airmen and soldiers in this crossfire of sectarian violence putting more of them as the president is likely to suggest is going to bring this to an end sooner," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has backed such a plan, but most -- including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. -- have not taken a clear position yet. Some key Democrats, including the independent-minded Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, have declared support for a surge.
Democratic manuevering on Capitol Hill may likely foment more criticism of a surge. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden of Delaware plans to begin four weeks of hearings this week. His house counterpart, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, has also planned hearings in his committee.
Nearly 40 Republican senators, meanwhile, have already voiced their support for a surge.
"If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I'm willing to pay that price gladly," likely 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Friday after an appearance at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington.
McCain added that the surge "must be substantial and it must be sustained."
McCain agrees with retired Army Chief of Staff and ABC News consultant Gen. Jack Keane and AEI's Frederick Kagan that a surge would have to include a large number of troops -- Keane and Kagan say 35,000 -- and last well into 2008.
"If Americans push back the insurgents, they will hold only while the Americans are still there," Rep. Duncan Hunter, a presidential candidate and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told a New Hampshire radio talk show this weekend.
As the debate heightens in intensity ahead of President Bush's speech, the killing in Iraq continued. Shortly before Kennedy spoke, violence flared along Baghdad's Sunni-dominated Haifa Street, where the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said U.S. and Iraqi troops killed 50 insurgents. Although the raid targeted a Sunni district, U.S. military commanders say they intend to cooperate with Iraqi forces in clamping down on factional violence in the Baghdad neighborhoods dominated by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.
"Anyone who conducts activities outside the rule of law will be subject to the consequences," American military spokesman Rear Adm. Mark Fox said in a news conference.