Washington -- Prominent Democratic senators who are against the troop buildup in Iraq took issue yesterday with criticism from Bush administration officials who contend that opposition to the president's new strategy will embolden the enemy.
"It's not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's the failed policy of this president - going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely."
On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said a congressional resolution against the buildup could demonstrate "flagging will" by the nation and potentially "emboldens the enemy and our adversaries." His comments echoed those made earlier in the week by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new top commander in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney has also spoken critically of the resolution.
Sen. James H. Webb Jr. of Virginia, a former Marine and Navy secretary who is a leading critic of the war, appeared yesterday on CBS' Face the Nation and said Gates' comments were wrong.
"First of all, who's the enemy?" Webb asked, "Who are they talking about? Are they talking about Iran? Are they talking about the insurgents? Are they talking about al-Qaida?"
Biden, speaking on ABC's This Week, said he believed that as few as 20 senators think Bush's plan to add 21,500 troops in Baghdad and Anbar province is the "right direction" for U.S. strategy.
The Foreign Relations Committee voted last week to support a resolution created by Biden and Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, opposing the troop increase. Hagel was the only Republican on the committee to support the resolution, although many spoke against the buildup.
A second, more gently worded measure opposing the troop increase, drafted by Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, has drawn support from five other GOP senators. Warner, a Republican, is a former Navy secretary and past chairman of the Armed Services Committee whose views on military issues are widely respected.
Debate on the resolutions could begin as soon as this week.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said that rather than taking a "show of hands," the Congress should try to work constructively with Bush.
Lugar, who appeared with Biden on This Week, said the resolutions "are not helpful to General Petraeus, to the troops, to the Iraqis, ... but we do need some policies that will be helpful, and hopefully our committee can be constructive in forging those."
The resolutions are becoming something of a test issue for the growing numbers of presidential candidates.
Biden is set to announce his run for the presidency this week.
Sen. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican who came out last week for Warner's measure, said on Fox News Sunday that the enemy is already emboldened and that resolutions would hardly change that.
But Mike Huckabee, the former Republican governor of Arkansas who plans to launch his candidacy today, opposed the resolutions on NBC's Meet The Press. "I think it's one thing to have a debate and a discussion about this strategy," he said, "but to openly oppose, in essence, the strategy, I think that can be a very risky thing for our troops."
On Face the Nation, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he was appealing to members of his party not to support the Biden or Warner resolutions.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and one of the strongest supporters of the troop buildup, is also crafting an alternative measure that would call for benchmarks against which to measure the Iraqi government.
McConnell said if there had to be a resolution, he would push for one like McCain's. Establishing benchmarks for the Iraqi government, he said, could be helpful to Petraeus. But McConnell said any Senate resolution would have to have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes to pass.
Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times.