Biden to Fight Iraq Troop Buildup
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he would oppose any plan by President Bush to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
"I totally oppose the surging of additional troops into Baghdad, and I think it is contrary to the overwhelming body of informed opinion, both people inside the administration and outside the administration," Biden told reporters yesterday. He said he plans to hold hearings for his panel next month in a bid to influence the president's decision.
Bush is said to be studying a plan to send as many as 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, possibly to help stabilize Baghdad, as part of a new strategy to improve security and stem the escalating sectarian violence. Biden contended that such a move "will not have any positive effect, except extremely temporarily."
The remarks from Biden, who said yesterday that he will announce next month his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, came as Bush headed to his Crawford, Tex., ranch for a review of the U.S. strategy in Iraq. The president is scheduled to host a meeting of the National Security Council at the ranch tomorrow, to be attended by Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. But he is not expected to immediately release a final decision on a new strategy.
Biden said that one problem with the present discussion of a buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq is that no one can specify exactly what the president may be studying. He and others have asked for specifics on the troops' mission, the number involved and how long they would be in Iraq.
Bush said at a Dec. 20 news conference that "there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before, you know, I agree on that strategy."
Some key Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), have come out in favor of increasing troop levels. McCain said earlier this month, during a trip to Iraq, that he believes "there is still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control" and to "allow the political process to proceed."
On Sunday, Graham, who had just returned from Iraq, said security in Baghdad has deteriorated to the point that a troop increase is necessary, though it should be "co-joined with political reform." During an appearance on ABC News's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Graham said that "more troops in Anbar would help stop the insurgency flow from Syria into Baghdad" and that "more troops in Baghdad would give the politicians some breathing room."
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said recently that if U.S. military commanders support a buildup, "just for a short period of time, we'll go along with that." But a period of 18 months to 24 months would be too long, he said.
Biden noted yesterday that retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, helped produce an American Enterprise Institute study that called for 20,000 additional U.S. troops in Baghdad to clear and hold neighborhoods for about 18 months.
Biden said he does not think that even that would work. He stressed that "if the president does make this surge, I hope he levels with the American people and makes it clear the minimum that they're going to be there for 18 months."
Biden said that his committee will begin hearings on Iraq on Jan. 9 and that if Bush has not released his plan by then, he might start with experts and "those proposing alternatives" to what the president may do.
He is planning three days of hearings each week for three weeks and will include past and present administration officials.
Rice has agreed to appear, but not until after Bush has presented his new strategy to the nation. Gates will be asked to appear. Biden said he does not plan to call former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but he added: "That's not something that's totally off the table."
Biden said that he hopes to generate "some bipartisan consensus in the Senate" but that he does not expect to do more than try to influence Republican senators who could then affect Bush's decisions. He said that, at his last meeting with Bush, after the November elections, he told the president, "all we can do is try to . . . cooperate with you, and when we disagree with you, try to influence your decision by making the case to the public at large that we should change course."