As expected, the Republican-controlled Senate has soundly rejected two different calls from Democrats to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of 2006.
In an 86-13 vote on Thursday morning (June 22), the Senate rebuffed an amendment put forward by a group of senators including John Kerry, Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer that would have required the administration to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007, and begin redeploying troops this year, according to The Associated Press.
In what is widely seen as a precursor to the debates that will emerge in the lead-up to November's midterm congressional elections, not a single Republican voted for the measure.
"Withdrawal is not an option. Surrender is not a solution," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who painted Democrats as defeatists who want to abandon Iraq before the mission is complete, the AP reported.
Soon after shooting down the first amendment, a second one that was supported by more Democrats was turned away by a largely party-line 60-39 vote. That nonbinding resolution would have called for the administration to begin withdrawing troops, but did not set a timetable for ending the war.
The double-barreled rejection spurred Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid to accuse Republicans of blindly following President Bush's "failed" stay-the-course strategy for the largely unpopular war, the AP reported. "It is long past time to change course in Iraq and start to end the president's open-ended commitment," Reid said. With polls showing that the public is inclined to shift power in Congress to the Democrats, Republican senators invited the debate this week as a way to shine a light on the split in the Democratic Party.
And while Republicans have declined to set a timeline and argue that the U.S. must stay in Iraq to help shore up the country's newly emerging government and avoid a possible civil war, Democrats asked the administration to give some guarantee that American forces won't be on the ground in Iraq indefinitely.
"We must give them that support and not send a signal that we're going to possibly pull the rug out from under them," said Republican Senator John Warner, to which Feingold responded, "It is time to tell the Iraqis that we have done what we can do militarily."
President Bush has said repeatedly that he will not set a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, and on Thursday Vice President Dick Cheney weighed in on the debate, telling CNN that withdrawing troops from Iraq would encourage terrorists and leave the U.S. and its allies vulnerable to new attacks.
"The worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting," Cheney said, claiming that neither an immediate or phased withdrawal would help U.S security. "If we pull out, they'll [terrorists] follow us ... It doesn't matter where we go. This is a global conflict. We've seen them attack in London and Madrid and Casablanca and Istanbul and Mombassa and East Africa.
"They've been, on a global basis, involved in this conflict," Cheney continued. "And it will continue — whether we complete the job or not in Iraq — only it'll get worse. Iraq will become a safe haven for terrorists. They'll use it in order to launch attacks against our friends and allies in that part of the world ... No matter how you carve it — you can call it anything you want — but basically, it is packing it in, going home, persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight."