Sen. John McCain sought to weaken support for a resolution opposing President Bush’s Iraq war strategy Sunday, saying proponents are intellectually dishonest.
On the eve of a possible congressional showdown on Iraq strategy, McCain contended the bipartisan proposal amounted to a demoralizing “vote of no confidence” in the U.S. military.
The measure criticizes Bush’s plan to add 21,500 troops in Iraq yet offers no concrete alternatives, he said.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that you disapprove of a mission and you don’t want to fund it and you don’t want it to go, but yet you don’t take the action necessary to prevent it,” said McCain, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a 2008 presidential candidate from Arizona.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called GOP efforts to block a vote on the resolution “obstructionism.” Neither a Senate majority nor voters, she said, will tolerate such a delaying tactic.
“If we can’t get this done, you can be sure a month or so down the pike, there’s going to be much stronger legislation,” she said.
Test vote on Monday
The Senate, where Democrats hold a 51-49 working majority, has tentatively set an early test vote for Monday on the nonbinding resolution by Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
In a bid to attract more GOP support, Warner added a provision pledging to protect money for troops in combat.
That compromise drew the ire of some Democrats who said it leaned too far in endorsing the status quo. They want to see binding legislation to cap troop levels, force a new vote to authorize the war or begin bringing troops home.
McCain is sponsoring a resolution expressing support for a troop increase and setting benchmark goals for the Iraqi government. He sought to capitalize on some of the Democratic division.
“I do believe that if you really believe that this is doomed to failure and is going to cost American lives, then you should do what’s necessary to prevent it from happening rather than a vote of ’disapproval,”’ McCain said.
“This is a vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there,” he said, noting the proposal does not seek to cut off money for troops.
A fellow Vietnam veteran, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, disagreed with McCain’s assessment. Hagel said the resolution would make clear the Senate’s belief that Bush’s policy is misguided.
Hagel said the proposal also lays out alternatives such as moving troops away from the sectarian violence and closer to the Iraq border to provide “territorial integrity.”
“We can’t change the outcome of Iraq by putting American troops in the middle of a civil war,” said Hagel, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008.
Republican leaders are working to block a vote on Warner’s resolution. They insisted that at least two other GOP proposals also be considered — McCain’s and one focused on maintaining money for troops in the field. Such a strategy could dilute support for Warner’s measure and make it tougher for any measure to pass.
Democrats want to limit debate to just the Warner and McCain proposals.
Two Republicans who oppose Warner’s proposal, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Richard Lugar of Indiana, said Sunday they were uncertain the Warner resolution would get the support of 60 senators.
“Even if there is, it’s nonbinding, and has in my judgment no consequence,” Lugar said.
Hagel said Warner’s resolution strikes a careful balance for a majority of senators who oppose a troop buildup but differ on the appropriate response.
He called McCain’s proposal meaningless because it offers benchmarks but does not spell out what the U.S. government will do if the Iraqi officials fail to meet them.
“What are the consequences? Are we then going to pull out?” Hagel asked. “Are we going to cut funding? Now, that falls more in the intellectually dishonest category.”
The resolution debate comes as the White House and congressional Democrats prepared to square off over war spending.
Bush’s new budget on Monday will ask for $100 billion more for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year — on top of $70 billion already approved by Congress for the current year. The budget will call for $145 billion in war spending for 2008.
The spending request covers Bush’s new war strategy, including the increase in troops, White House budget director Rob Portman said Sunday.
“It’s extremely important that we support our troops,” Portman said. He described the requested money as the amount needed “to be sure our troops have the equipment they need, that they are taken care of well.”
Hagel and McCain appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” Graham was on “Fox News Sunday,” and Feinstein, Lugar and Portman spoke on “Late Edition” on CNN.