Monday, August 29, 2005

Senator Will Ask Rumsfeld to Testify to Panel on Iraq - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 - With lawmakers facing tough questions at home about the war in Iraq, Senator John W. Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says he intends to summon Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld quickly for a hearing when Congress returns next week.

Mr. Warner, a Virginia Republican who is one of the most important Congressional voices on military policy, said mounting numbers of dead and wounded Americans, the contentious process of drafting an Iraqi constitution and the economic cost of the war were adding up to new anxiety in Congress.

"The level of concern is, I think, gradually rising," Mr. Warner said in an interview on Friday. "Our nation has given so much to the Iraqi people, and what are they giving us in return?"

Unlike some of his colleagues in both parties, Mr. Warner said he did not see parallels between the current situation and the Vietnam era. While he said he believed that most Republican lawmakers remained strongly behind administration policy, he indicated that continuing on the same course could steadily erode Congressional backing for the war.

"I don't see that the Congress is going to suddenly pull back like in the days of Vietnam," Mr. Warner said. "It is the desire of the Congress to continue to work with and support the administration. But there is always a tipping point."

He spoke as leaders of both parties acknowledged that lawmakers had heard, during the August recess, from voters unhappy with events in Iraq. The public sentiment has been reflected in polls indicating a drop in support for President Bush and his Iraq policies. The political atmosphere has also been influenced by the antiwar vigil outside Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas.

"I think the public is losing patience with the effort because they don't see it succeeding," said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. "In fact, from their perspective, they see the attacks increasing. We haven't done what we need to do for the infrastructure in Iraq. We haven't got the economy going."

Appearing on ABC television on Sunday, Senator John Thune, a freshman Republican from South Dakota, acknowledged "a certain amount of fatigue" among the public with events in Iraq. "And particularly, when we hear the news of casualties, people in this country don't want to hear that," Mr. Thune said on the program "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." But he added, "At the same time, I think we have to keep the broader purpose in mind, and that is that we are making this world safer."

Other allies of the administration said they saw clear signs of progress.

"We are talking about a constitution here that's going to be, by Middle Eastern standards, extraordinarily enlightened, that is going to be approved in all likelihood in October, and you'll have a democratic government elected in December," Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said on "Fox News Sunday."

He noted that it had still been less than three years since Saddam Hussein was toppled. "It took us in this country 11 years to get from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution," Senator McConnell said.

But Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a senior Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee, said the public would not be satisfied by what he called the administration's efforts to turn Iraq's constitution into a rationale for the conflict.

"The idea that we would be sending American servicemen over to Iraq on the basis of the Iraqis developing a new constitution is just so remote, so distant and so fallacious," he said in an interview.

On the CBS program "Face the Nation," Senator John McCain, who has persistently criticized the Bush administration for dispatching too few troops to Iraq, said Sunday that the Pentagon should send 15,000 to 20,000 more troops to help stabilize Iraq.

"I know we need more marines, we need more Special Forces, we need more linguists, we need more civil affairs people," he said.

Senator Warner, who said he intended to visit Iraq soon, also said he had not formally asked for Mr. Rumsfeld to testify.

Mr. Warner has also said he will schedule a hearing in the next several weeks on whether the Pentagon has failed to hold senior officials and military officers responsible for the prisoner abuses that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, and at other detention centers in Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan.



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