GOP Lawmakers Divided About 'Surge' in Troops

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 1, 2007

CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 31 -- Republican lawmakers appear uneasy about -- and in some cases outright dismissive of -- the idea of sending many more troops to Iraq, as President Bush contemplates such a "surge" as part of his new strategy for stabilizing the country.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a leading GOP presidential contender for 2008, has been aggressively promoting a plan to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq, and the idea has been gaining traction at the White House as a way to improve security in Baghdad.

But the proposition generates far less enthusiasm among rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom must face the voters again in 2008, presenting a potential obstacle for Bush as he hones the plan, according to lawmakers, aides and congressional analysts.

Two Senate Republicans with potentially tough reelection contests in 2008, Minnesota's Norm Coleman and Maine's Susan Collins, returned from recent trips to Iraq saying they did not think sending more troops was a good idea. Branding the U.S. war effort "absurd," Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) made waves in early December with a speech questioning the continued presence of troops.

And while other Republicans say they are open to the president's proposal, some made it clear that they will only be supportive if the troops have a coherent mission and the deployment is linked to a larger political strategy for reconciling feuding sects.

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), another possible presidential contender, said in an interview Saturday that he could favor more troops if they were a "precursor" to political stability. But he added: "A short-term buildup in troops, if it simply is to impose military order without the possibility of political equilibrium, that doesn't seem to me to be too farsighted."

"We have got to get to some acceptable balance between the Sunnis and Shiites," Brownback said. "We cannot impose a military solution."

In a separate interview, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a supporter of the Iraq war who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said he has been "cautious" in his recommendations to the White House about the need for a troop increase. For instance, if Bush proposes additional troops to help train Iraqi forces or to clean out a specific part of Baghdad, Chambliss said he could support that as long as it was understood the troops would "get out" after the mission was accomplished.

"I don't want to send more troops on a general wartime basis without them having a specific mission," said Chambliss, who is also up for reelection in 2008.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), said he does not know "whether I do or do not" support more troops and advised the president to consult much more seriously with Congress about Iraq than he has in the past. "There's been an election; Republicans lost the election," he said.

Indeed, the opening of the new Congress this week, with Democrats in control of both sides of the Capitol for the first time in 12 years, promises to affect the president's Iraq policy. Under GOP control, Congress strongly supported the invasion and most of Bush's Iraq initiatives, but Democrats have signaled that they will subject his plans to much greater scrutiny and oversight.

President Bush will not formally unveil his new Iraq plan until sometime in early January, but a wide array of administration officials expect that one key element would be deploying as many as 20,000 additional troops to the Baghdad area to help clear neighborhoods and regain security. Bush is also considering economic initiatives aimed at wooing disaffected young people from armed struggle, as well as establishing milestones for political progress by the Iraqi government.

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