Senate debates withdrawing US troops from Iraq within one year
Source: Agence France Presse 03/14/2007
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2007 (AFP) -
Congress on Wednesday began its latest showdown over Iraq, this time over setting a deadline of a little more than a year for full withdrawal of US troops from the war-ravaged country.
Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate found themselves on opposite sides of a heated debate over whether or not to set the date of March 31, 2008 for the complete withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq.
Under the legislation drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, US troop redeployments would have to commence within 120 days of the bill's passage.
Reid said Wednesday that after nearly five years of failed Bush policies in Iraq, the time had come for a new direction.
"This war has taken a tremendous toll on our country, our troops, and their families, and our standing in the world," he said on the Senate floor.
Another top Democrat, US Senator Ted Kennedy, called the Iraq debate -- which has consumed many hours of floor time in the weeks since Democrats took control of Congress last January -- "the overarching issue of our time."
"This is a defining moment. The American people are watching. The world is watching," Kennedy said.
"The issue is clear: Will we stand with our soldiers by changing their mission and beginning to bring them home? Or will we stand with the President and keep our soldiers in Iraq's civil war?"
Kennedy continued: "History will judge us. We can either continue down the President's perilous path, or embrace a new direction."
Democrats believe they have a mandate from US voters to begin a US troop withdrawal, after winning big in November elections and a stream of opinion polls showing strong public support for leaving Iraq.
But Republicans are zealous in their defense of keeping US troops in Iraq, and even adding thousands more as part of the "surge" strategy put in place by US President George W. Bush.
US Senator John McCain -- a US presidential contender and perhaps the most outspoken advocate in the Senate for keeping US troops in Iraq -- said repercussions of withdrawing US troops would make the debacle of Vietnam seem minor by comparison.
"If we walk away from Iraq now, we risk a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, a haven for international terrorists, an invitation to regional war in this economically vital area, and a humanitarian disaster that could involve millions of people," said McCain.
"If we walk away from Iraq, we will be back -- possibly in the context of a wider war in the world's most volatile region."
His words reprised an argument made earlier in the week by US Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby group.
"A sudden withdrawal of our coalition would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the global war on terror and result in chaos and mounting danger," the US vice president said.
"For the sake of our own security, we will not stand by and let it happen."
But Reid insisted Wednesday that America simply could no longer sustain the high price of its military mission there, noting: "3,200 American soldiers, sailors and marines have been killed in Iraq."
"We've seen tens of thousands wounded men and women who have come home to a health care system unprepared and ill-equipped to care for them, our army has been stretched dangerously thin, and our Treasury has been spending week after bloody week two billion dollars each week.
He stressed that he believed US military operations in Iraq have faltered because of lack of leadership by the commander-in-chief.
"President Bush didn't have a plan to win the peace, much less the war," said Reid.