Democrats Consider New Ways to Limit Iraq War

By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 19, 2007

Thwarted in their attempt to formally rebuke President Bush, Senate Democrats yesterday shifted their focus to narrowing the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

Meanwhile, an influential Republican urged the president to reach out to Democratic leaders in Congress and seek bipartisan legislation on Iraq, citing as a possible road map President Ronald Reagan's compromise with Democrats on Social Security in 1983.

"My guess is that the president might make headway, and he would be well served by having a bipartisan policy which does pass . . . the House and the Senate, as really, a stamp of the American people at a time in which they see the urgency of Iraq," Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

A day after seven GOP senators joined Democrats in unsuccessfully attempting to condemn Bush's current Iraq policy, the White House offered no sign of compromise.

Instead, it urged lawmakers to give the Bush policy more time to succeed. "The war is tough, but the solution is not to get out," White House press secretary Tony Snow said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"What I would say to members of Congress is: Calm down and take a look at what's going on, and ask yourself a simple question: If you support the troops, would you deny them the reinforcements they think are necessary to complete the mission?"

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), also appearing on "Late Edition," took his own hard line, calling Iraq "the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country," even worse than Vietnam. "We find ourselves in a very deep hole," Reid said.

Democrats revised their aims after failing Saturday to gather enough votes in the Senate to permit debate on a symbolic resolution criticizing Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq for a crackdown on growing sectarian violence. The House passed such a resolution Friday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) rejected calls from some within his party to push next for legislation cutting off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Instead, he and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) discussed yesterday substantially narrowing U.S. troops' mission in Iraq by changing Congress's war authorization made in 2002.

"That was a wide-open authorization, which allowed [Bush] to do just about anything," Levin said on "Fox News Sunday." "We, I think, will be looking at a modification of that authorization in order to limit the mission of American troops to a support mission, instead of a combat mission."

Levin said he believes such a bill would be a constitutional way to bring change in Iraq without trampling on the president's war powers and would be more politically palatable than cutting off war funding, as some liberals have advocated.

"I don't think there's support to cut off funds," Levin said. "I think that sends the wrong message to our troops. We're going to support our troops, and one way to support them is to find a way out of Iraq earlier, rather than later."

Pressed on what sort of duties U.S. troops should be limited to in Iraq, Levin suggested going after al-Qaeda fighters, training Iraqi forces to take over, and protecting U.S. diplomats and other assets.

Biden, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, said on "Face the Nation" that he has been drafting legislation along the lines Levin suggested. Biden said he hopes the bill could be married with "some hard-headed diplomacy to get a political solution" between warring factions in Iraq.

"That's what's going to save the troops," he said, also endorsing Lugar's plea for Bush to reach out to leaders in Congress.

Lugar, however, said he doubts any legislation changing the war authorization would survive a presidential veto.

Another Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), said he is going to "look very carefully" at a proposal by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), one of the fiercest war critics, to place conditions on Bush for future Iraq funding. "I'd be open to it," Hagel said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company