Gates: Iraq Resolution 'Emboldens' Enemy
Friday, January 26, 2007; 11:04 PM
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday an effort in Congress to pass a resolution opposing President Bush's troop buildup undercuts U.S. commanders in Iraq and "emboldens the enemy."
At the same time, he said the Pentagon is hoping to speed up the deployment of five additional Army brigades to Baghdad to bolster security in the capital. They had been scheduled to arrive a brigade per month through May, each containing roughly 3,500 troops.
Gates' strong language, along with Bush's own forceful comments, underscored the high stakes in a Senate battle expected to start next week over proposals from both parties criticizing the president's war strategy.
At the White House on Friday, the president challenged lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup, saying, "I'm the decision maker" on troop levels. Vice President Dick Cheney said earlier this week that the buildup would proceed even if a nonbinding resolution supported by some Republicans as well as Democrats wins Senate approval.
Bush spoke to reporters in the Oval Office after meeting with Gates and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus won Senate confirmation Friday to replace Gen. George Casey as the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Stepping up what has become a war of nerves with Iran, the White House also said Bush had authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to take whatever actions might be necessary to counter Iranian agents who are deemed a threat.
"It makes sense that if somebody's trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them," Bush said. "It's an obligation we all have ... to protect our folks and achieve our goal."
With his showdown with Congress drawing near, the president challenged those who favor a legislative rebuke of the troop buildup to put forward an alternative.
"I know there is skepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," he said. "They have an obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work."
House Republicans are proposing an advisory committee to report regularly on the progress of Bush's plan in an effort to measure how well it is _ or isn't _ working to quell sectarian violence in Iraq.
Democrats showed little sign of backing down. Emphasizing Congress' intention to play a major role in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., led a group of lawmakers there, where they met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior U.S. commanders.
"American forces should quickly begin to transition from a combat role to one focused on training, counterterrorism, force protection, and controlling Iraq's borders," the delegation said in a written statement, espousing a policy embraced by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group but not the administration.