A day after President Bush announced a revised strategy for the Iraq war, a plan that includes an additional 21,000 troops for the country, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came under hostile questioning from skeptical lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle. Rice defended the plan in day-long hearings before Senate and House panels Thursday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, set the tone for his panel's hearing, when he expressed his opposition to the proposed increase in U.S. troop strength in Iraq.
"The result will be the loss of more American lives and our military stretched to the brink, with little prospect of success, and a further loss of [U.S.] influence in the region," he said.
Many lawmakers echoed the concerns, underscoring the challenge the administration faces as it tries to explain the strategy to Congress and the American public.
Some of the harshest criticism came from lawmakers of the president's own Republican Party.
Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and potential presidential candidate in 2008, said the president's plan to put U.S. troops in the middle of a civil war is tactically, strategically and morally wrong.
"I think that this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country's history since Vietnam, if it is carried out. I will resist it," said Hagel.
For her part, Secretary Rice defended the plan.
"The most urgent task before us now is to help the Iraqi government, and I want to emphasize help, the Iraqi government establish confidence among the Iraqi population that it will and can protect all its citizens, whether they are Sunni, Shi'ia, Kurds, or others, and that they will, in an even-handed fashion, punish those violent people who are killing innocent Iraqis," she said.
Rice repeated her confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and said she believes he is aware time is running short for restoring security to the country.
Rice's testimony comes as Senate and House Democratic leaders are planning to bring the president's proposal to a vote in both chambers to underscore the lack of support for the plan. The action would be purely symbolic.
Many Democrats are calling for a phased U.S. troop withdrawal. A few others are calling for cutting funding for the war.
"Congress must use its main power, the power of the purse to put an end to this disastrous war, and I am not talking about the surge or escalation. It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops out of Iraq," said Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.
But most lawmakers oppose cutting funds for the war, saying they support the troops.
The Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, signaled that Republicans would consider action to block any proposal to cut money to the troops. At a news conference, he endorsed Mr. Bush's plan.
"Only with a secure Baghdad do you have a chance of having a reasonably stable country, which is what our goal is, and what their goal is, and a country that would be an ally in the war on terror," he said.
McConnell called on lawmakers to give the president's plan a chance to succeed.