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Senate Debates Iraq Policy

July 10, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Should we stay, or should we go? The Senate reignited that debate today. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), California: How many more explosive devices are going to blow up in the faces of our troops before we start bringing them home?

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Democrats pushing for a redeployment of troops from Iraq expect the situation there will only get worse. U.S. troops continue to die — 29 so far this month — as the sectarian violence they’re policing continues. The Congressional Research Service says the war is costing $10 billion a month. And a White House report later this week is expected to conclude that Iraqi leaders have not met a series of benchmarks required by Congress.

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: Without setting a date to begin a phased reduction of troops and a phased redeployment of troops, there is much too little pressure on the Iraqi leaders to do what only they can do, which is to work out a political settlement.

Amendment would reduce forces

KWAME HOLMAN: Levin and fellow Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island are offering the most closely watched amendment to a $650 billion defense bill now on the Senate floor. It would require reductions in the size of U.S. forces in Iraq, beginning 120 days after the bill is enacted. It also would set a goal to withdraw most combat troops by next spring; some would stay for counterterror operations and to train the Iraqi military.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: There's evidence with a new strategy that we can defeat and destroy al-Qaida in Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: But South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, just back from Iraq, said adopting the Levin proposal would be a mistake, at a time when Army General David Petraeus' counterinsurgency plan in Iraq is succeeding.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Now, Senator Levin, a dear friend, wants to say we're going to leave in March of '08 or 120 days from now. I can't remember how the amendment is worded, but it basically is a statement by the Congress that we're going to undo the surge.

The surge comes to an end, we begin to leave, and we leave a force behind that will do a couple of things: train the Iraqi army and police force. Well, we tried that for four years. Training during a war is a little different than training when you're not at war.

Republicans break with president

KWAME HOLMAN: Still, several Senate Republicans have broken with President Bush on the war in recent days.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), Indiana: The longer we delay the planning for redeployment, the less likely it is to be successful.

KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold said those defections, "long overdue," will lead to more.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), Wisconsin: It's meaningful. It's just tragically slow, irresponsibly slow, that these senators have known for a very long time that this situation is a disaster, that many American troops have died in a situation that doesn't make sense. I can't believe people have waited this long.

But of course, the fact that a number of Republican senators have said, "Look, we can't even wait until September for a change in policy," is significant. It means that this war is going to end. The only question is: How long will it take? And how much nonsense do we have to listen to from the White House in the process?

KWAME HOLMAN: However, most Senate Republicans aren't ready to accept timelines for troop withdrawals, Iowa's Chuck Grassley among them. He said he'll wait for guidance from one man.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), Iowa: I've got to ignore what the president's saying; I've got to ignore what my colleagues are; I think we have a bond with Petraeus, not just Chuck Grassley, but a lot of senators do. And I think we owe it to General Petraeus, since we voted 81-0 to send him over there, to have some confidence in him. Will it work or not? We don't know. But we've got to wait for his report and then make a judgment at that time.

Increasing public dissatisfaction

KWAME HOLMAN: But senators from both sides of the aisle acknowledged the American people's increasing dissatisfaction with the war. Today's Gallup poll showed that more than 7 in 10 surveyed were in favor of removing nearly all U.S. troops from Iraq by April of next year.

Delaware Democrat Joe Biden said those numbers will not improve without a change in policy.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: If we don't start bringing home combat forces within the next few months, get them out of the midst of the civil war, we will have so soured the American people on the ability to do even the things that need be done, that this president and the next president will be left with absolutely no option, absolutely no option but to withdraw totally from that area and let the chips fall where they may.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: I've seen this movie before, Madam President. I've seen this movie before from the liberal left in America.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Arizona Republican John McCain, a former prisoner of war, said senators should not legislate according to polls as they did during the Vietnam War.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: This war has divided this nation in the most terrible way. I saw it once before; I saw it once before a long time ago. And I saw a defeated military, and I saw how long it took a military that was defeated to recover. And I saw a divided nation beset by assassinations and riots and a breakdown in a civil society.

That's why we need, in my view, to try to come together -- and I don't know how we do that -- but to try to come together beginning with respecting each other's views and show that we can come together and hopefully end the tragedy of Iraq and, at the same time, ensure America's security.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators will go on the record with their positions when votes on troop withdrawal timelines are taken later this week.