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Democrats Question Bush's Plan to Expand War - 2002-03-02


A war of words has begun on Capitol Hill over President Bush's war on terrorism. It began this week when key Democrats raised questions about Mr. Bush's plans to expand the war and complained that Congress is not being consulted.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, there has been overwhelmingly bipartisan support for Mr. Bush's war on terrorism.

But in recent days, Democrats - led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota - have begun raising questions about the administration's campaign.

Mr. Daschle, a possible presidential contender in 2004, says the anti-terrorism effort has been successful so far. But he says its continued success is in his words 'somewhat in doubt,' because key members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are still at large.

"Clearly we have got to find Mullah Omar, we have got to find Osama bin Laden, and we have got to find other key leaders of the al-Qaida network, or we will have failed," Mr. Daschle said.

Mr. Daschle also expressed concern that the administration has not clearly explained its aims as it begins to expand military activity from Afghanistan to other countries that it believes pose a terrorist threat. "I think there is expansion without at least a clear direction to date," he said.

Mr. Daschle's comments follow similar ones made by Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia and the influential chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Senator Byrd told Defense Department officials Wednesday they should not expect what he called 'blank checks to be written' for expanding the war without a clearer understanding of administration goals.

As the U.S. military focuses increasing attention on the Philippines, Yemen and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Senator Byrd expressed concern that, "there is no end in sight" to U.S. involvement.

"Now we are talking about going into Georgia, the Republic of Georgia, and now it is Yemen, where is the end? Where is the end?" Senator Byrd asked.

The heightened rhetoric - coming eight months before Congressional elections - suggests Democrats are planning to use the administration's request for military spending increases to question its broader policy goals.

"I have every expectation that Congress will be very supportive of the additional requests made by the President and this administration for defense and homeland security. But I will not, and I do not think anyone should be a rubber-stamp, should simply without questions approve everything any administration asks," Senator Daschle.

Republicans traditionally seen by the public as the stronger party on defense issues were quick to seize on the Democrats' rhetoric. An angry House Minority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas called Mr. Daschle's comments 'disgusting.'

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi warned that Mr. Daschle's comments could hurt international cooperation in the war against terrorism. He spoke in an interview on public television's Newshour.

"I think when you are at war and when you have lives on the line, and when there are people around the world who would be happy to see us begin to break apart and not continue to be supportive of this effort, I think that undermines our effort to hold our coalitions together, to build coalitions, when they look at America, and say 'oh yes, they are tough for about three months', but then after that they go back to their old ways. I think that is an unhelpful message to be sending overseas," Senator Lott said.

President Bush who enjoys high public approval ratings has not entered the fray.

His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, says Mr. Bush has been proud of the bipartisan cooperation he has received in the war on terrorism and will continue to call on lawmakers to engage in that bipartisan spirit.

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