Troop Surge Enters Defense Bill Debate

Amendments to the Defense Bill

Democrats and a growing number of Republicans contend the surge has already failed.

Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chair of the Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed, D-R.I., announced their latest "phased redeployment" proposal at a Capitol Hill press conference.

Offered as an amendment to the bill, the Levin-Reed amendment would set April 30, 2008, as an end date for transitioning U.S. troops out of a combat role in Iraq. Those remaining would focus efforts on force protection, training of Iraqi forces and conducting specific counter-terror operations.

When asked about the potential for a U.S. drawdown to create more chaos in Iraq, Levin said, "What we're not comfortable with is the huge chaos which exists in Iraq right now and American troops being in the middle of a civil war…that's what we're trying to end by forcing the Iraqi leaders to accept responsibility for their country."

(Other congressional proposals being packaged in various amendments with the 2008 Defense Authorization Act and aimed at a policy shift in Iraq include leave time, revoking war authorization and implementing all the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.)

Still, members of the GOP, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who supports McCain's position, contend the surge is working and the consequences of withdrawal would be catastrophic.

"Do we want to be the calvary for al Qaeda?" Graham said on the Senate floor. "All the troops need is additional capacity to defeat al Qaeda. That additional capacity has been made by the surge. The old strategy of just training and staying behind walls, failed. The new strategy is working."

The Larger Debate

While the Democrats want to draw down troops, they won't say by exactly how much. Levin will not say how many troops he thinks should be in Iraq after the role transition because he said specific numbers would divert Americans from the larger debate.

"We don't want to get mired down into a specific debate as to how many troops would remain for these limited missions. That would deflect the debate from where we think it must be. And that is: Do we want to change course in Iraq or not? Do we want to end this open-ended commitment of American forces in the middle of a civil war or not? That's what we want the debate to center on rather than the number of troops that would be present after the transition is completed on April 30."

Reed, who like McCain visited Iraq over the Fourth of July holiday, pointed out that similar provisions have gained momentum and progressively gained more votes. From 39 votes in 2006 to 49 votes in March 2007, to the terms included in the (vetoed) supplemental later in the spring that garnered 51.

Later on the Senate floor, Biden said, "It's long past time for our Republican colleagues to join us in what I believe they know to be right -- to force the president to drastically change course in Iraq."

As Democrats look to the vote and debate surrounding the defense bill to flex their congressional muscle and to make good on the midterm election promises that earned them majority rule, it will also showcase a fractured GOP and war-torn Congress.

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