U.S. Congressman John Murtha (file photo) (epa) February 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) – The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote later today on a nonbinding resolution to oppose President George W. Bush’s troop surge for Iraq.

The resolution, which is widely expected to be approved, has no legal force to make the president change his course. Still, it represents the first major showdown between the White House and the new Congress, controlled by opposition Democrats, over how to handle the Iraq crisis.

At issue is a resolution of some 100 words that is sharply critical of the president’s new Iraq strategy.

In part, it states that Congress “disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10th, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.”

The Democrats, who have sponsored the resolution, hold a majority in the House. In addition, because the resolution is nonbinding on the president, even some members of Bush’s Republican Party will likely endorse it.

Senator Joe Biden, who is a Democratic presidential candidate, said he will propose that the U.S. military draw up plans to bring U.S. combat forces home by next year.

Still, debate has been fierce in the House of Representatives over the past three days. Often, the arguments have gone far beyond the resolution itself to focus on the administration’s overall handling of the Iraq crisis.

“A military solution, standing alone, is not the answer,” said Representative Rick Boucher (Democrat, Virginia) on February 15. “The only path to success lies in diplomacy and accepting the wise counsel of the Baker-Hamilton Commission [the Iraq Study Group]. Finally, the administration decided to try real diplomacy in North Korea, and it’s working. It’s also the only hope we have for stability in Iraq.”

Boucher urged the president to adopt the recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission, which urged the president to explore regional diplomacy – including with Iran and Syria – to help stabilize Iraq. Instead, the White House announced a troop surge as the centerpiece of its stabilization effort.

Lawmakers supporting the president have called disapproval of the troop surge equivalent to giving up in Iraq.

“Supporting our troops but not supporting the war is not an option,” said Representative Cathy McMorris (Republican, Washington). “Victory is the only real choice. The consequences of failure are unacceptable. Abandoning Iraq would embolden the militants. It would create a humanitarian crisis, impacting millions. Instability in the Middle East will create more violence and leave the U.S. vulnerable to future attacks. I urge my colleagues to oppose this resolution.”

The wide-ranging debate recognizes that even if the current resolution before the House of Representatives is symbolic, it is still a key test of strength. And its outcome will likely determine how boldly the Democratic leadership challenges Bush’s Iraq policy in the months ahead.

One possible strategy for the Democrats is to oppose the troop surge by setting tight conditions for approving a new White request for supplemental funds for Iraq operations.

The chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that will deal with the request has proposed that Congress insist that only troops who meet tough standards for readiness be deployed.

Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (Democrat, Pennsylvania) said on February 15 that the thinly stretched U.S. military would have trouble meeting such standards, meaning the conditions would effectively block the troop surge.

Those are the kinds of battles likely to lie ahead. But, so far, neither the president’s opponents nor his supporters clearly have the upper hand.

The Democrats must worry that setting restrictions on funds for Iraq – or pushing too quickly for initial troop withdrawals – might be seen by the public as endangering U.S. soldiers.

Equally, the Republicans must worry that blocking the new leaders of Congress too stubbornly could be seen as defying the public’s vote for change in last year’s legislative elections.

And In the Senate…

A battle over the Iraq strategy is taking place in the Senate, as well as in the House of Representatives. However, a similar nonbinding resolution in the Senate opposing the troop surge has been blocked by Republican lawmakers using procedural obstacles.

However, Senator Joe Biden (Delaware), who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic presidential candidate, said he would propose that the U.S. military draw up plans to bring U.S. combat forces home by next year.

Biden said Bush’s recent buildup with some 21,500 additional troops was a “tragic mistake” that would not quell the violence in Iraq.

Biden said the 2002 congressional action was based on the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was designed to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The senator added that 2002 authorization is “no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq.”

A new poll showed public support for the Iraq war continuing to fall, with 53 percent of U.S. citizens believing the United States should bring its troops home as soon as possible.

Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

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