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Proposals to Increase Troop Levels in Iraq Raise Questions at Home

At a time when some policy-makers are calling for a drawback of combat forces from Iraq, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and others have called for more troops to help end the conflict. Editorial page editors from around the country debate the proposals.

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    Robert Gates took over as secretary of defense today amid an intense debate inside the administration and in the media: whether to send more troops to Iraq.

    The idea of dispatching another 20,000 soldiers and Marines, mainly to try to secure Baghdad, appeared to be gaining momentum. It even has its own name: "surge."

    And though Gates did not touch on the issue in his maiden speech, the surge debate filled newspaper headlines and was the topic of much discussion on the Sunday talk shows.


    On CBS, there was a strong critique from former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. He noted a smaller surge was tried in August, but failed.

    COLIN POWELL, Former U.S. Secretary of State: So we have tried this surge of troops over the summer. I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work.

    But if somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question to whoever is proposing it is: What mission is it these troops are to accomplish? Is it to secure Baghdad? In which case, the American Army isn't large enough to secure Baghdad, and we should not use our troops as policemen.

    Is it to take over a certain section of Baghdad? Is it to go after the insurgents? There needs to be a clear mission that these additional troops are going to be performing. And we have to be very, very careful in this instance not just to grab a number out of the air. It really has to be analyzed.

    There really are no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there, there longer, and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops.


    On ABC's "This Week," incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed more open to the idea of a surge, but nothing more.

    SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Minority Leader: If it's for a surge — that is, for two or three months — and it's part of a program to get us out of there, as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I'll go along with it. But if it's put 40,000 more troops in there, you know, we've lost in Nevada about 30 troops killed.

    Scores have been wounded. We're now approaching 3,000 dead Americans, costing the American people $2.5 to $3 billion a week. This is a war that we have to change course. The president has to do that.


    Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in.

    NEWT GINGRICH (R), Former Speaker of the House: I would send more troops, if it was in a context of a new strategy with a dramatically new commitment with a bipartisan resolution in the Congress.

    I mean, the center of gravity for American policy right now is the president finding a bipartisan agreement on the Congress in the first two or three months to send a signal to the world that it is America's — this can't be Bush's war. This is either an American commitment to victory or it is a defeat.


    Today, in an interview with NBC, Senator Hillary Clinton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, joined the debate.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I am not in favor of sending more troops to continue doing what our young men and women have been told to do, with the government of Iraq pulling the rug out from under them when they actually go after some of the bad guys. I am not in favor of doing that unless it's part of a larger plan.


    A recent Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll found that only 12 percent of Americans supported the idea of an increase in U.S. forces, while 52 percent favored setting a timetable for bringing troops home.