With President Bush set to offer Congress his assessment of the surge strategy and Congress clamoring for troop withdrawal, senators took up the Iraq debate again, clashing over the fundamental question: whether U.S. troops are adding to the chaos in Iraq or tamping it down.
As the president pleaded for patience in a Cleveland speech, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, slated to give a surge assessment to Congress later this week, roamed Senate office buildings attempting to shore up support for the surge strategy as fissures in GOP support continue.
Senate Democrats, who advocate a timeline for withdrawal, are using the 2008 Defense Authorization Act and the debate surrounding it to test waning Republican support of the president's Iraq policy.
On the Senate floor, American history invaded Iraq as senators from both parties defended differing opinions on the surge through stark analogies between the current Iraq involvement and the withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1970s.
In an impassioned floor speech, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returning from his sixth trip to Iraq last week, first defended the troop surge in plain language.
"If we leave Iraq prematurely, jihadists around the world will interpret the withdrawal as their great victory against our great power," McCain said.
McCain also described an Iraq withdrawal as tantamount to repeating the mistakes of Vietnam.
"Then, too, the argument in the United States focused primarily on whether U.S. forces should pull out. But many who supported that withdrawal in the name of human rights did not foresee the calamity that followed which included genocide in Cambodia, tens of thousands slaughtered in Vietnam by the North Vietnamese and the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of boat people," McCain said.
"I saw it once before," said McCain, who spent years as a prisoner of war when his fighter jet was shot down over Vietnam.
"I saw a defeated military and I saw how long it took a military that was defeated to recover. And I saw a divided nation beset by assassinations and riots and a breakdown in a civil society."
McCain admitted that the Iraqi government is not performing well and the violence there is unacceptable.
But the Arizona senator advocated giving the president's surge a chance and took a swipe at the policy decisions put into motion by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former U.S. Iraq commander Gen. George Casey. McCain said ending the surge is not a change in course, rather a "a return to the failed Rumsfeld-Casey strategy."
"We can be sure that if the United States senate should try to end a new strategy just as it is beginning, it is sure to fail," said McCain.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., drew his own analogy of a "Saigon revisited" and disagreed with McCain's take.
"We will be lifting American personnel off the roofs of buildings in the Green Zone if we do not change policy and pretty drastically. Because not a single person in here who knows anything about the military who can tell me they think there's any possibility of us sustaining 160,000 forces in Iraq this time next year," Biden said.
Biden continued: "What my friend from Arizona did not say -- and he knows a great deal about this -- leading generals in the military say straightforwardly, we are breaking -- let me emphasize that -- breaking the United States military."