WASHINGTON — The Senate's top Republican doubts that a resolution opposing a troop buildup in Iraq will pass, saying most lawmakers in his party believe "this is the last chance for the Iraqis to step up."
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Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he believes Republicans might be willing to coalesce around an alternative resolution setting benchmark goals for the Iraqi government. But congressional support will probably splinter given the many competing proposals on Iraq, he said.
"I'm not certain any" will get the necessary votes, McConnell said.
Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said senators' widespread opposition to a troop buildup will become evident when they begin debating the measure this week.
"I will make you a bet, you will not find 20 percent of the Senate standing up and saying the president is headed in the right direction," said Biden, D-Del.
During an early presidential campaign swing through Iowa, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said President Bush should "extricate" the United States from Iraq before he leaves office, asserting it would be "the height of irresponsibility" to pass the war along to the next commander in chief.
"This was his decision to go to war with an ill-conceived plan and an incompetently executed strategy," Clinton, D-N.Y. said Sunday. "We expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office" in January 2009.
The White House condemned Clinton's comments as a partisan attack that undermines U.S. soldiers.
The Democratic-controlled Senate will consider a nonbinding resolution declaring that Bush's proposal to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and Anbar province is "not in the national interest."
Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the measure on a near party-line vote of 12-9.
In reaction, Bush challenged lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup. Vice President Dick Cheney said the administration would proceed with additional troops even if a nonbinding resolution won Senate approval.
With the Senate having just confirmed a new top U.S. commander for Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it was "pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries."
No resolution filibuster expected
On Sunday, Biden dismissed criticism that a resolution would bolster the enemy.
"It's not the American people or the U.S. Congress who are emboldening the enemy," said Biden, a White House hopeful in 2008. "It's the failed policy of this president - going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops."
McConnell said Republican leaders would not seek to block a vote on Biden's nonbinding resolution with a filibuster. But he called a proposed resolution that focuses on benchmarks "the best way to go."
Cheney said most Republicans "recognize that what's ultimately going to count here isn't sort of all the hurrah that surrounds these proposals so much as it's what happens on the ground on Iraq. And we're not going to know that for a while yet," according to .
In an interview with Newsweek, Cheney again cited "significant progress" in Iraq and said the war is part of a long-term fight against extreme elements of Islam.
"It's not something that's going to end decisively, and there's not going to be a day when we can, say, 'There, now we have a treaty, problem solved,'" Cheney said. "It's a problem that I think will occupy our successors maybe for two or three or four administrations to come."
Biden appeared on ABC's "This Week." McConnell spoke on "Face the Nation" on CBS.
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