The war and the Senate

The Baltimore Sun

Next week, the Senate will most likely take up some version of a resolution opposing the deployment of about 20,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq - either the one approved Wednesday by the Foreign Relations Committee or a substantially similar measure drawn up by Virginia Republican John W. Warner. The vote is almost certain to go against the Bush administration, and the White House is trying to salvage what it can by trying to portray the resolution as a partisan "Democrat" potshot.

So the spotlight falls on those Republicans who are sensible enough to acknowledge that this is not the time to escalate the war. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is in the forefront; he was the one Republican who voted with the Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee proposal, angrily declaring that the time has come for every senator to take a stand. But there are at least eight others who know in their hearts that he's right - and probably more. A straight party-line split would strengthen the administration's hand at a time when Congress should properly be checking it.

Vice President Dick Cheney said on CNN on Wednesday that the resolution wouldn't make any difference anyway and that the administration was not going to be stopped from sending in the reinforcements. Some critics of the war have been making the same point, and they're right, inasmuch as the resolution will be nonbinding - but it will be an interesting spectacle to see President Bush openly defying the will of Congress.

There may, of course, be substantial maneuvering that will delay the vote. The White House, as it has on other issues, may announce that it's backing down - but not really. There could be further skirmishing over the mysteriously overdue National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which the Democratic leaders of Congress want to see completed and which is likely to take a seriously realistic (that is, pessimistic) view of the situation there.

Eventually, though, and sooner rather than later, Congress will have to confront the president head-on. And then again and then again, with the stakes rising each time. Mr. Cheney says that's "detrimental" to the troops; we believe that sending them into urban battle without a clear sense of their mission, and in support of a government that only reluctantly consents to their presence, is a lot more so.

The vice president also said the administration has achieved "enormous successes" in Iraq. A surreal statement like that shows why the nation can't simply bide its time for the next two years before doing anything about this disastrous war. Congress must act.

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