Senate panel opposes Iraq troop increase

By Susan Cornwell
Thursday, January 25, 2007; 5:21 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key U.S. Senate committee brushed aside U.S. President George W. Bush's plea to give his new war strategy a chance and passed a resolution on Wednesday opposing the plan to send more troops to Iraq.

The 12-9 vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee drew less Republican support than expected, given growing doubts in Congress about the wisdom of Bush's decision to add 21,500 troops in Baghdad and Anbar province.

Only one Republican, resolution co-author Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, voted for it, after accusing the Bush administration of playing "ping-pong" with American lives.

The measure now goes to the Senate floor for a vote expected next week. But the panel's chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, said it may be rewritten to attract more Republicans who have soured on the Iraq war.

Bush, a Republican, does not have to abide by the resolution.

Vice President Dick Cheney said a Senate vote would not sway the administration. "It won't stop us," Cheney told CNN. "We are moving forward ... in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision."

The resolution was "not an attempt to embarrass the president," Biden, a 2008 presidential hopeful, said.

Rather, it was designed to alert Bush that senators believe sending more U.S. troops into a civil war is "the wrong way to go," Biden said. "It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake."

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Bush insisted it was not too late for a new Iraq strategy. "I ask you to give it a chance to work," Bush said in the speech to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Senate.

Biden will seek consensus with the sponsor of another bipartisan resolution critical of the troop increase, Virginia Sen. John Warner, a leading Republican voice on national security.

Warner's resolution takes a softer tone than the one passed by the Senate committee, omitting words such as "escalating" to describe the troop increase.

At the last minute before Wednesday's vote, the Foreign Relations Committee changed "escalating" to "increasing," with no discernible effect.

Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich said he was more skeptical than ever about Bush's plan but he voted against the resolution because he thought it could be characterized as a "political attack."

The committee's senior Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said he was not confident Bush's plan would succeed, but also opposed the resolution. "This vote will force nothing on the president, but it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray," Lugar said.

Hagel, who is considered a presidential possibility, said senators must take a stand on the "most divisive issue in the country since Vietnam." "Sure it's tough," he said. "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes."

Biden said the troop increase would take five months to complete and warned that if Bush did not change his mind, the resolution would just be the committee's first step to try and change the war strategy. Several Democrats said they favored rewriting the authorization of force in Iraq passed by Congress in 2002 to reflect the new realities in Iraq.

Anti-war protesters planned to converge on Washington on Saturday and pressure Congress to bring U.S. troops home.

"The president is a lost cause," said Tom Andrews, national director of "Win Without War." "This is all about Congress now. This movement is resolved ... to moving forward until Congress does what we elected them to do."

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles)

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