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U.S. Congress' resolution opposing Iraq buildup `emboldens the enemy,' Pentagon chief says

U.S. Congress' resolution opposing Iraq buildup `emboldens the enemy,' Pentagon chief says

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday an effort in Congress to pass a resolution opposing President George W. Bush's troop buildup in Iraq undercuts U.S. commanders and "emboldens the enemy."
At the same time, he said the Pentagon hopes to speed up the deployment of five additional Army brigades to Baghdad to bolster security in the capital. They had been scheduled to arrive a brigade per month through May, each containing roughly 3,500 troops.
Gates' strong language, along with Bush's own forceful comments, underscored the high stakes in a Senate battle expected to start next week over proposals from both parties that would criticize the president's war strategy.
At the White House, the president challenged lawmakers Friday not to condemn his buildup prematurely, pointing out that as commander in chief, "I'm the decision maker" on troop levels. Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that the buildup would continue even if a nonbinding resolution supported by some Republicans as well as Democrats should win Senate approval.
Bush spoke to reporters in the Oval Office after meeting with Gates and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus won Senate confirmation Friday to replace Gen. George Casey as the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Stepping up what has become a war of nerves with Iran, the White House also said Bush had authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to take whatever actions necessary to counter Iranian agents who are deemed a threat.
"It makes sense that if somebody's trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them," Bush said. "It's an obligation we all have ... to protect our folks and achieve our goal."
With his showdown with Congress drawing near, the president challenged those who favor a legislative rebuke of the troop buildup to put forward an alternative.
"I know there is skepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," he said. "They have an obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work."
Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing an advisory committee to report regularly on the progress of Bush's plan in an effort to measure how well it is or is not working to quell sectarian violence in Iraq.
Democrats showed little sign of backing down. Emphasizing Congress' intention to play a major role in Iraq, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a group of lawmakers to Iraq, where they met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior U.S. commanders.
"American forces should quickly begin to transition from a combat role to one focused on training, counterterrorism, force protection, and controlling Iraq's borders," the delegation said in a written statement, espousing a policy embraced by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group but not the Bush administration.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said House members will vote shortly after the Senate does on a nonbinding measure "that makes clear that we need a real change in course, that the president's escalation proposal does not serve our national interests."
He also pledged more hearings on the war effort, to be followed by legislation that could require changes in administration policy. He said one possibility is to revise the measure that Congress passed in 2002 that gave Bush authorization to invade Iraq.
Gates, at his first Pentagon news conference since taking office Dec. 18, was asked whether he thought a formal rebuke of Bush's plan would offer Iraqi insurgents new hope.
"It's pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries," Gates replied.
"I think it's hard to measure that with any precision, but it seems pretty straightforward that any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks," Gates said, referring to the anti-government forces in Baghdad.
Senate Democrats are to start debate next week on a resolution that would oppose Bush's decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. forces into battle in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the chamber's senior Democrat, said Friday that a quick test vote probably would be taken if Republicans tried to delay or block the resolution.
Petraeus, who served in command positions in Iraq twice previously, has said he needs all the extra troops to quell raging sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Gates said Friday the Pentagon would try to determine whether ways can be found to speed up the arrivals of at least some of the brigades.
Bush said he wanted Petraeus to head to Baghdad as quickly as possible to implement his new strategy, which includes economic development as well as more troops.
Gates defended Bush's choice of Casey to be the next Army chief of staff, despite indications that some lawmakers might oppose him because of the poor progress in Iraq under his command.
Gates seemed to allude to his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, in saying that the performance of generals like Casey should be evaluated "in the context of the decisions made by (their) civilian superiors." He added: "The battlefield they faced was shaped by those decisions."
He did not mention Rumsfeld by name.