Troop surge creates debate

By David Espo The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The outgoing top U.S. general in Iraq diplomatically aired his differences with the commander in chief yesterday, telling lawmakers that President Bush has ordered thousands more troops into Iraq than needed to tamp down violence in Baghdad.

Gen. George Casey quickly added he understood how his recently confirmed successor, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, could want the full complement of 21,500 additional troops that Bush has ordered to Iraq. Casey said they could “either reinforce success, maintain momentum or put more forces in a place where the plans are not working.”

As the general spoke at a confirmation hearing into his nomination to become Army chief of staff, the full Senate lurched toward a widely anticipated debate on the administration’s policy, the first since midterm elections in which public opposition to the war helped install a new Democratic majority.

One day after critics of Bush’s revised war strategy merged two competing Senate measures, the White House worked to hold down the number of GOP defections while two liberal Democrats attacked the compromise as too weak. An early test vote on the issue is tentatively set for Monday.

“It is essentially an endorsement of the status quo, an endorsement I simply cannot make in light of the dire circumstances in Iraq and the need for meaningful action now,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Casey endured occasional sharp criticism as he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I do not in any way question your honor, your patriotism or your service to our country, I do question some of the decisions and judgments you have made over the past two and a half years as commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.