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Congress Ponders Troop Surge In Iraq


Divisions are surfacing on Capitol Hill as the U.S. Congress prepares to take up a revised U.S. strategy on Iraq. President Bush is expected to announce his plans early in the new year. And as VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House, lawmakers appear split on the best course of action to end the violence and support the young Iraqi government.

As the president wraps up his consultations on Iraq, he is getting a lot of advice from members of Congress.

They are making their thoughts known on national television. And they are displaying a wide range of views on one option under serious consideration by the president, a surge in U.S. forces to help quell the bloodshed.

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition program, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania made clear he is cool to the idea, but stressed he is trying to keep an open mind.

"I am not going to give President Bush a blank check," said Arlen Specter. "But, he is the president, he is the commander-in-chief, and I am prepared to listen to what he has to say."

Senator Specter indicated he would support a troop surge, if he is convinced it is necessary to ensure victory. But he said, at the moment, he is leaning toward the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of foreign policy experts that called for a gradual draw-down of U.S. forces.

The notion of a temporary major increase in troop levels has support from the incoming chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut - a Democrat turned Independent - told CNN he thinks a surge is necessary.

"If we let Iraq get out of control, it will have disastrous effect on the whole region," said Joseph Lieberman. "It will embolden the Iranians and al-Qaida to move forward throughout the region, and embolden them to strike us again."

On the Fox News Sunday television program, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana - the outgoing head of the Foreign Relations Committee - took note of the differing views on Iraq emanating from the legislature. He urged President Bush to lay out his plans in detail to members of Congress before making them public.

"In the past, the administration has been inclined not to disregard Congress, but not to take Congress very seriously," said Richard Lugar. "I think it is time for Congress to be taken seriously."

Lugar said, with Democrats about to take control of the House and Senate, consultations are imperative. He said, if the president announces an increase in troops, without first explaining the specifics to key members of Congress, there will be a lot of hearings and a lot of criticism.

"He really needs to make certain some of us have some idea what the plan is, instead of suddenly saying: 'Here is the plan and, by golly, we are going to win,' or some such verbiage of that sort," he said.

Lugar also said he embraces the Iraq Study Group's call for direct U.S. contacts with Syria and Iran on the situation in neighboring Iraq.

The White House has rejected the idea, and has urged members of Congress to do the same.

Arlen Specter, who recently met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, defended his decision on CNN.

"Senators are independent," he said. "Under our Constitution, there is a separation of power. And it is true that the president has primary responsibility for foreign policy, but not exclusive responsibility."

Specter went on to say that he respects what the administration is doing, but added there are members of Congress who know the region well and can return from meetings in places like Damascus with useful suggestions.

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