Bush's Iraq Plan Meets Skepticism On Capitol Hill

By Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 12, 2007

President Bush's proposal to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq encountered strong bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill yesterday, and his top national security advisers, dispatched to defend the strategy, were greeted with a skepticism not seen from Congress over the past six years.

Lawmakers said they have little confidencethat the Iraqi government has the capacity to deliver on promises to take the lead in cracking down on violent militias and providing security in Baghdad, as the president's plan contemplates. Democrats and Republicans alike said they are concerned that Bush's plan, announced Wednesday night in a nationally televised prime-time address, is too little and too late and does not appear very different from previous efforts to secure the capital.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sought to assure lawmakers that the plan can work if given time. Gates said he detected a much greater determination from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to go after "all lawbreakers" with "no exceptions." He suggested that the prime minister will confront the militias fueling sectarian violence, including insurgents controlled by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Still, the ferocity of the congressional condemnation dismayed the White House, which had hoped to rebuild an element of bipartisan consensus around Bush's plan. It was further indication that the new Democratic Congress is headed toward a series of potentially epic clashes and floor votes over the conduct and funding of the nearly four-year-old war.

Congressional skepticism is being fueled by the public: A majority of Americans oppose Bush's decision to send more troops, and only one in three said the plan will probably make victory in Iraq more likely, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Rice appeared to be on the receiving end of the toughest grilling yesterday, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Not a single senator from either party expressed support for the president's plan, many posed hostile questions, and others expressed deep doubt about the Bush administration's premise of creating a viable democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

"I've gone along with the president on this, and I bought into his dream," Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) told Rice bluntly. "And at this stage of the game, I don't think it's going to happen."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) offered a similar assessment. "I have supported you and the administration on the war, and I cannot continue to support the administration's position," he said. "I have not been told the truth over and over again by administration witnesses, and the American people have not been told the truth."

Rice maintained her composure throughout the hearing, which lasted more than three hours, conceding that doubts are warranted but pleading for patience. "I want you to understand that I, personally, too, understand and know the skepticism that is felt about Iraq and indeed the pessimism that some feel," Rice said.

Asked if she has confidence in the Maliki government, Rice said she did, adding: "I think he knows that his government is on borrowed time."

Appearing at Fort Benning, Ga., Bush told soldiers that daily life in Iraq will eventually improve but that his new strategy will not yield immediate results. "The American people have got to understand that suicide bombings won't stop immediately," Bush said. "The IED attacks won't stop immediately."

Administration officials said nothing to suggest that the troops will be coming home any time soon. At a morning news conference, Gates said the increase in troops is being viewed as a "temporary surge" but added: "No one has a really clear idea of how long that might be."

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