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.