The U.S. Senate is expected to vote as early as Thursday on two Democrat-sponsored proposals calling for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq later this year. The Republican-led chamber is expected to reject both.
The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, is sponsoring a proposal that calls for U.S. troops to begin pulling out of Iraq this year, but stops short of setting a deadline for completing a withdrawal. "By making clear that a phased redeployment of our forces from Iraq needs to begin this year, we will send a clear message to the Iraqis that our presence is not an open-ended security blanket, and that they need to assume responsibility for their own future," he said.
Levin argues that the current approach of staying the course is unsustainable and counterproductive.
Most Democrats agree, although they differ over how long troops should remain in Iraq.
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts offered his own proposal that would set a July 1, 2007 deadline for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops. "It is not an abandonment of Iraq, it is in fact a way of empowering of Iraq to stand up on its two feet and for the Iraqis to be able do what they have expressed their desire to do, which is have their sovereignty," he said.
But the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, opposes both Democrat proposals, saying they would play into the hands of terrorists. "Withdrawing our forces prior to the Iraqis being able to defend themselves would encourage terrorists, embolden al-Qaida, and threaten American security," he said.
Republicans who control the chamber generally agree, and neither proposal is expected to be approved.
Senator John McCain of Arizona said the Bush administration had made "serious mistakes" in waging the war in Iraq, but said withdrawing troops too soon would be a far more serious one. "Such a move I believe would be a significant step on the road to disaster," he said.
But Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, argued that staying the course in Iraq fuels the insurgency and benefits the terrorists. "My colleagues, if we continue to be stuck in Iraq, we are facilitating al-Qaida's future, we are facilitating their recruitment, we are facilitating their growth of their operation in places like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia," he said.
With congressional elections five months away, politics overshadowed much of the debate.
Some Republicans sought to highlight the divisions among Democrats, who, they argued, support a "cut and run" strategy in Iraq.
Democrats, who hope to capitalize on the unpopularity of the war in an effort to regain control of Congress, say their proposals show united opposition to Bush administration policies.
They criticized Republicans for seeking to exploit the war for political gain.
"It is time to choose what is more important: a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy for Republicans to win elections here at home," said Senator Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat.
The Democrat proposals on troop withdrawals were put forward as amendments to a defense authorization bill.