WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House has stood by President George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, despite growing public opposition and a chorus of criticism from lawmakers in Congress.
Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States needed to remain steadfast in the face of escalating violence in Iraq, defending the administration’s plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops.
“People are trying to make a judgment on whether or not this plan is going to work I think far too early,” he said in an interview with Newsweek. “And I think in fairness to the Iraqis, they need to be given an opportunity to follow through on their commitments.”
He cautioned against the phased withdrawal backed by Democrats, saying Iraq would collapse into chaos and the United States would lose stature in the world.
“All of a sudden, the United States, which is the bulwark of security in that part of world, would I think no longer — could no longer be counted on by our friends and allies that have put so much into this struggle,” he said.
Congress is due to vote in early February on a non-binding motion criticizing the surge in troops, with Democrats and Republicans moving to prepare other draft resolutions even as the violence in Iraq claimed more lives with at least 61 killed across the country on Sunday.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) predicted a large number of lawmakers in Bush’s Republican Party — possibly “even a majority” — would support the resolution condemning the proposed deployment.
“And that will send shockwaves through the White House and through the country,” Schumer told NBC.
Congress also appeared headed for a possible confrontation with Bush over requests for additional funds for the war, with Schumer and other lawmakers vowing to pile pressure on the president.
Bush has urged a skeptical US public to give his new strategy a chance and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record) told CBS that Senate Republicans were “not going to talk about failure” in Iraq.
“We’re going to talk about success,” he said. “But we don’t want to allow these places, to become once again where these elements like Al-Qaeda can operate with impunity and then be prepared to launch attacks on us again here in America.”
But the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, presidential hopeful Joe Biden, challenged the administration’s doomsday predictions.
“It’s not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy,” he told Fox News.
“It’s the failed policy of this president, going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment and lastly, now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6.5 million people with bullseyes on their back with no plan,” he added.
Biden vowed a “full-throated debate” on the plan in the Senate despite administration promises to move ahead in face of the opposition.
The president faces an uphill battle to gain support for his plan, with even loyal Republicans like Senator David Vitter (news, bio, voting record) of Louisiana calling it “clearly the final shot.”
“I think we should be stronger and clearer about benchmarks,” the senator said on NBC, adding his support for a regional conference that includes Iran and Syria.
“We need to go over and over and over the issue of, is this new troop level enough to make a difference. Because I think, clearly, we have been wrong in the past about the adequacy of troop levels,” he said.
Democrat-leaning independent Senator Joe Lieberman said Sunday he was working with Republican Senator John McCain (news, bio, voting record) on a text to try to bridge the divisions.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters — including Vietnam War opponent US actress Jane Fonda — took to the streets of Washington to denounce the president’s plan and demand an end to the war.
In Iraq Sunday, US and Iraqi forces killed more than 250 gunmen in a raging battle north of Najaf in which two US soldiers also died when their helicopter crashed.