Struggling for answers amid the war in Iraq

Monday, November 20th 2006, 12:00 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The postelection debate over Iraq is intensifying as members of Congress from both parties pose remedies and the Bush administration hunts for answers.

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York proposed a military draft, which the administration has repeatedly said it doesn't need.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said more troops should be sent in and that the soldiers there now are "fighting and dying for a failed policy."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said troop withdrawals must begin within four to six months.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., calls to push Iraqi units to the front lines of Baghdad.

And a Pentagon review of Iraq has come up with three options _ injecting more troops into Iraq, shrinking the force but staying longer or pulling out, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The newspaper quoted senior defense officials as dubbing the three alternatives "Go big, go long and go home."

The secret military study was commissioned by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and comes as political and military leaders struggle with how to conduct a war that is increasingly unpopular, both in the United States and in occupied Iraq.

"I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic," said McCain. "It will spread to the region. You will see Iran more emboldened. Eventually, you could see Iran pose a greater threat to the state of Israel."

But not all Republicans agree with McCain that more troops are needed. Hunter, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday in an interview that he wants to "Go Iraqi." Hunter says the Pentagon tells him some 114 Iraqi battalions are trained and equipped, and 27 of those units are operating in areas that see less than one attack a day.

"We need to saddle those up and deploy them to the fight" in dangerous areas, primarily in Baghdad, said Hunter, R-Calif., who hopes to run for president in 2008.

Taking a different tack, newly empowered Democrats pressed their case for a phased withdrawal of American forces.

They hope a special advisory commission led by Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, would propose a way ahead for Iraq, while making clear the U.S. military mission shouldn't last indefinitely.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he'd like to see the commission assert that U.S. troop commitments are not open-ended; propose a clear political road map for Iraq; and recommend engaging Iraq's neighbors in a political and diplomatic solution.

The United States should "begin to let the Iraqi leadership know we're not going to be staying," he said Monday on NBC's "Today" program.

"Over the next four months let them know we're going to start to phase out, force them to have to address the central issue. That is not how to stand up Iraqis, but how to get Iraqis to stand together," Biden said.

"The idea that we're going to have 140,000 troops in Iraq this time next year is just not reasonable," he said.

McCain, a front-running GOP presidential hopeful for 2008, said the U.S. must send an overwhelming number of troops to stabilize Iraq or face more attacks _ in the region and possibly on American soil.

"The consequences of failure are so severe that I will exhaust every possibility to try to fix this situation. Because it's not the end when American troops leave. The battleground shifts, and we'll be fighting them again," McCain said. "You read Zarqawi, and you read bin Laden. ... It's not just Iraq that they're interested in. It's the region, and then us." He was referring to Osama bin-Laden and the late al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

With about 141,000 U.S. troops in Iraq more than 3 1/2 years into the war, the American military has strained to provide enough forces while allowing for adequate rest and retraining between deployments.

Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Sunday "there's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft."

In a speech Monday at Baruch College, Rangel said he wants to hold hearings into current troop levels and future plans for Iraq and other potential conflict regions, noting that the administration has said more troops may be needed.

If they are, the congressman said, it is impossible not to ask where more troops would come from _ making the draft an egalitarian way to meet those demands.

"If the country's in danger, everyone should share in the sacrifice," Rangel said.

Speaking with reporters afterward, Rangel said, "You cannot increase the military without raising the possibility of the draft."

He said the purpose of a hearing would be to ask questions, such as, "Mr. President, share with me what is victory, and if you have any clue what you're talking about, who is the enemy ... who do we negotiate the victory with ... who sets the agenda in the Middle East?"

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi said Monday that restoring the draft will not be on that list and was not something she supported. "The speaker and I discussed scheduling and it did not include that," said her top deputy, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Rangel spoke Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," McCain appeared on ABC's "This Week," Levin on CNN's "Late Edition," and Biden wrote in Sunday's Washington Post.