This Is President Bush's War
Democrats will soon get a say on Iraq
Congress' new leaders aim to thwart Bush's call for a troop increase. Hearings are planned.
"I hope the president and his people will listen," Biden said.
Biden, who was elected to the Senate during the Vietnam War and who is planning a 2008 presidential run, has been among the most outspoken critics of Bush's Iraq policies; he called any increase in troops "the absolute wrong strategy."
A new tone in Washington
As recently as last year, when John P. Murtha called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, many in the party agonized over whether that position would permanently tar Democrats as weak. But as discontent with the war has grown, sapping Bush's popularity, Democratic lawmakers have become increasingly outspoken. And senior party leaders now appear to be uniting behind the call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces, a position that was bolstered by the release this month of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's report.
"Democrats and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have both laid down a roadmap for the president to begin the withdrawal of American troops from the civil war in Iraq," incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week. "It is now up to the president to follow that course."
Bush has met with the new Democratic leaders but thus far has shown little inclination to accept their counsel on the war.
Rather than talk of reducing the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the White House has focused in the weeks since the release of the Iraq Study Group report on a temporary increase in troops that proponents say will help control the growing sectarian violence. Senior congressional Democrats, including Biden, have attacked that plan, arguing that beginning a phased withdrawal is the best way to force Iraqis to take responsibility for halting the violence between Sunnis and Shiites.
As he outlined his scheduled hearings in a Tuesday conference call with the media, Biden expressed hope that by airing more viewpoints on Iraq, congressional leaders, particularly Republicans, could persuade the president to reconsider the idea of deploying more soldiers.
"If we can, out of those hearings, generate some bipartisan consensus in the Senate, then he may very well listen to some of … my Republican colleagues who, I believe, share my great concern," Biden said.
Only 12% of Americans back a troop increase, compared with 52% who prefer a timetable for withdrawal, a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found.
And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton last week promised a series of oversight hearings aimed at uncovering and correcting abuses in the war effort.
The flood of congressional hearings next month will probably shed unfavorable light on the way the Bush administration has prosecuted the war in Iraq.
But Biden acknowledged that, short of cutting off funding, Congress has limited ability to compel the White House to dramatically change course.
Though Congress has in the past used its power over the budget to challenge the foreign policies of presidents — including cutting funding to the government of South Vietnam in the mid-'70s — thus far no leading Democrat has called for withholding money for military operations in Iraq.
"We should not exaggerate the ability of the United States Foreign Relations Committee or the Congress to get a president to act in a manner in which the Congress thinks is more rational or more appropriate," Biden said Tuesday. "There's nothing the United States Congress can do by a piece of legislation to alter the conduct of a war that a president decides to pursue.
"This is President Bush's war," he said.
"Conservatism, like Christianity, has not failed. Neither has ever been tried, especially by this administration."