Senate Panel Opposes Troop Increase in Iraq, 12-9

By JOHN HOLUSHA

New York Times

January 25, 2007

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-9 today to approve a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to send additional forces to Iraq, despite Mr. Bush’s plea for support in his State of the Union speech.

“We need to change course in Iraq,” said Senator Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the committee. “We should be drawing down forces.”

At the request of some members, Mr. Biden agreed to change the word “escalation” in the resolution to the more neutral term “increase.” But the committee rejected all amendments to the resolution, both those that would strengthen and weaken it.

Senator Biden said the panel would soon hold hearings and consider measures that would more strictly limit the president’s flexibility to act in Iraq.

He joined with Senators Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, and Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, to sponsor the resolution, which objects to “deepening America’s military involvement in Iraq” by sending an additional 21,500 soldiers and marines to the country.

Senator Hagel was the only Republican on the panel to vote for the resolution.

Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said passing the resolution would send a message to allies that the American government was divided over Iraq policy, even though he conceded that he was “not confident” that the president’s plan would succeed.

The resolution endorsed by the committee will go to the Senate floor as soon as next week, and there could be debate over another Iraq resolution as well. That’s because Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, has not indicated that he will abandon a resolution he has proposed, which he says is different from the one just endorsed by the committee in important respects. "There is a lot in ours that is not in the other one," he said on Tuesday.

Mr. Warner says his approach puts more emphasis on specific benchmarks to gauge progress in Iraq and calls for military rules of engagement to reflect that American forces are not to play a role in quelling sectarian violence. Mr. Warner’s resolution is also backed by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.

Senator Hagel described the war in Iraq as “the most serious issue of our time” and “the most divisive issue in this country since Vietnam.”

Some members of the committee wanted to go beyond the non-binding resolution. Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, proposed a binding resolution that would cap the number of troops in Iraq to the number already there unless Congress approved sending more.

Four members of the panel are either running for president or are considered likely to: Senators Biden, Dodd and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, and Senator Hagel on the Republican.

David Stout contributed.