US Democrats plan new tactic to change course of war

Updated: 2007-09-16 09:22

WASHINGTON -- After US President George W. Bush's announcement of a partial pullback of troops from Iraq, Democrats are ready to employ a new tactic to change the course of the war.

A new legislative proposal raised by Democrats is finally close to winning enough Republican support for a real chance at being approved, the New York Times reported Saturday.

It would require that troops spend as much time at home as on their most recent tours overseas before being redeployed.

The proposal, by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, has strong support from top Democrats, and would force Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, to withdraw troops on a substantially swifter timeline than the one he laid out before Congress this week.

It would also protect troops from serving protracted and debilitating deployments.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware and a candidate for president, called the proposal the "easiest way" for his Republican colleagues to change the war strategy on the same day that the Bush administration released a mixed report on the Iraqi government's progress toward various goals.

The Pentagon sought on Friday to challenge the Democrats' approach, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates saying at a Pentagon news conference that it would only create further hardships for the military, including the prospect of even lengthier tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Analysts said the precise impact of Webb's proposal is likely to be hotly debated next week as the Senate resumes its consideration of a major defense policy bill, which Democrats will use to push a number of initiatives aimed at shifting the war strategy.

But none of those may have a better shot at winning the 60 votes needed to cut off debate than Webb's plan, a back door approach that underscores the Democrats' continuing struggle to have any real influence on the conduct of the war.

When it was last up for a vote in July, the proposal failed by 56 to 41, falling just four votes short.

With the return of Senator Tim Johnson, Democrat of South Dakota, who had been recuperating from a brain hemorrhage, the Democrats need just three Republicans to join the six who supported the amendment in July.

And several Republicans who voted against the proposal last time said they are now reconsidering, including Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who is running for re-election next year.

The Webb measure holds deep appeal for military service members and their families, and allows Democrats to present themselves as supporters of the troops, but not the war.

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