By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006
The incoming Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said yesterday that he will push to renew the military draft, as lawmakers in both parties sharpened their criticisms of the situation in Iraq and struggled for consensus and solutions.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a likely presidential contender, leveled one of his harshest assessments yet, saying U.S. troops are "fighting and dying for a failed policy." He renewed his call for more U.S. troops in Iraq and said it is immoral to keep them fighting at the current deployment levels.
And Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, repeated yesterday his view that troop withdrawals must begin within four to six months.
The varying proposals underscored the extent to which key policymakers remain at odds two weeks after voters registered deep discontent over the war and restored Democrats to power in Congress.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) has long advocated returning to the draft, but his efforts drew little attention during the 12 years that House Democrats were in the minority. Starting in January, however, he will chair the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Yesterday he said "you bet your life" he will renew his drive for a draft.
"I will be introducing that bill as soon as we start the new session," Rangel said on CBS's "Face the Nation." He portrayed the draft, suspended since 1973, as a means of spreading military obligations more equitably and prompting political leaders to think twice before starting wars.
"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," said Rangel, a Korean War veteran. "If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft."
Rangel has drawn modest support for his draft proposal in recent years and it has been unclear whether its prospects might improve in the 110th Congress.
Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who will be the Senate majority leader, agrees that the U.S. military is stretched too thin and that "the burden of meeting the nation's security has not been shared equally by all segments of our society," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. But Reid "believes that these problems are best addressed by making needed adjustments in the all-volunteer force," Manley said.
On ABC's "This Week," McCain reiterated his argument that the United States faces a catastrophic setback in Iraq unless it deploys more troops to reduce sectarian violence and stabilize the country. "We have to have additional forces, or we will be playing whack-a-mole," he said.
McCain said in a speech Thursday that it is immoral to keep troops fighting merely to "delay our defeat for a few months or a year." Asked yesterday by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, "Isn't it currently immoral to keep Marines and soldiers, other service people, in Iraq?" McCain replied: "Yes, it is." But the war still can be won with renewed effort and resources, he said.
Lawmakers are anxiously awaiting recommendations next month from the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). If the group does not advocate sending more troops to Iraq, McCain said, he would support a troop withdrawal "if, at the point, I think that we have exhausted every option and that we are doomed to failure. I don't know if it'll be at that point [in December] or not."
Although not asked directly about the draft, McCain said, "We've got the best military we've ever had in our all-volunteer force."
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) agreed with McCain, saying on "Face the Nation" that more troops should be sent to Iraq and that a military draft is not necessary.
Levin, on CNN's "Late Edition," said the United States must start withdrawing from Iraq to pressure Iraqis to assume control of their nation.
"We must tell the Iraqis that we would begin, starting in four to six months, a phased reduction of our troops," Levin said. Otherwise, he said, "they're going to continue to have the false assumption that we are there in some kind of an open-ended way . . . which takes them off the hook."
On the presidential front, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that he is considering another presidential bid in 2008 despite widespread criticism of what he called "a botched joke" that some received as denigrating troops in Iraq.
And Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) -- who won a contest for House majority leader over a candidate backed by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- said he is confident there will not be retaliation against his supporters.
"We're going to talk about that," Hoyer said on "This Week." "But I'm sure that's not going to happen."
In a secret-ballot election by House Democrats on Thursday, Hoyer defeated Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), 149 to 86.