Senate Foreign Relations Panel Votes Against Iraq Surge

The Bush “surge” took a big hit early today with a non-binding vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee dismissed President Bush’s plans to increase troops strength in Iraq on Wednesday as “not in the national interest,” an unusual wartime repudiation of the commander in chief. The vote on the nonbinding measure was 12-9 and largely along party lines.

“We better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, the sole Republican to join 11 Democrats in support of the measure.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the panel’s chairman, said the legislation is “not an attempt to embarrass the president. … It’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.”

It’s very difficult, both from a separation of powers standpoint and from a political one, for Congress to force a president to abandon an ongoing war. The tide has definitely turned, though, for Biden to make such a strong statement, let alone for a prospective GOP presidential candidate to vote for a rebuke of his president’s policy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James,

    On January 12, you cited Chuck Hagel as one of the people who won’t get elected president, even going so far as saying he’s “got zero chance of getting a major party nomination, let alone winning in November”.

    Today you call him “a prospective GOP presidential candidate”.

    Did he just get upgraded from “zero chance” to “potential GOP presidential candidate” because he voted with the democrats in committee on a non-binding vote?

  2. Triumph says:

    Today you call him “a prospective GOP presidential candidate”.

    Did he just get upgraded from “zero chance” to “potential GOP presidential candidate” because he voted with the democrats in committee on a non-binding vote?

    Listen, quick nit-picking. Hagel has been playing with the idea of a presidential run for years making him a “prospective candidate.” The only official candidate right now is Sammy Brownback.

    Charlie joins such stallwarts as Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, and Duncan Hunter as “prospective candidates”

  3. just me says:

    YAJ there is a difference between being a prospective presidential candidate and having a chance of winning.

    Alan Keyes ran for the nomination in 2000-he was a prospective candidate, but did he have any chance of getting elected?

    Both statements can be true.

    As for this move it is mostly playing politics with the war-other than funding-congress doesn’t have much power over how a president executes the war. I also wonder how well this type of play resonates with those who are fighting.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I don’t think he can win. But he’s a serious politician who is apparently planning to seek the Republican nomination. It’s not good that he thinks his best strategy is to run against the war.

    I take it as a sign that the president’s support is declining, not as evidence that Hagel is right from a policy standpoint.

  5. James,

    Has Hagel ever been “for” the war? I know he voted for AUMF, but he also seemed to be saying “don’t go actually attack Iraq even though I voted to authorize the attack” back in 2002.

    I guess I am just not seeing as great of seismic shift as you do in that a guy with “zero chance” of getting the GOP presidential nomination is the lone crossover on a party line vote given that he has been against the war before their was a war. It would be a little like saying their is a seismic shift in the democratic ranks if Lieberman says he supports the surge.

  6. Steven Plunk says:

    The 100 generals stationed in the senate chambers should consult with the generals stationed in the Pentagon before voting on this resolution. Besides rebuking the President it will have an effect on the military as well.

    This is so purely political it makes my head spin. How can they weaken a president, a commander in chief, during wartime? Why would they do it? Simply to strengthen themselves at the cost of American strength abroad.

    These senators are sick, selfish people.

  7. Christopher says:

    You are so right, Steven. It makes me ashamed of our senate. Ashamed.

    Did you notice the poll yesterday? Bush has a higher approval rating than congress.

  8. legion says:

    Besides rebuking the President it will have an effect on the military as well.

    Well, so does the President’s “plan” of throwing more soldiers into Baghdad with no actual strategy.

    Sometimes, when everybody else (or even just 72% of Americans) disagrees with you, it’s because you’re the one who’s wrong.

  9. Steven Plunk says:


    I certainly respect your opinions here and consider you a very intelligent contributor but would like to know how to reconcile the idea of our President as commander in chief running the military and letting the senate or public opinion polls dictate how to run this war? That’s my problem, who’s in charge? Last I checked a united front led by the commander in chief was the best way to conduct a war so having the Senate vote on something that has no real power behind it is pointless.

    Letting public opinion drive war policy would simply be a disaster. 72% may disagree with how things are getting done but we have no idea what part they don’t like. The devil is in the details and these polls are full of details we never see.

    For that matter, why should the public decide what to do in Iraq when probably less than 10% know the difference between Sunni and Shia, Arab and Persian, middle east and far east? We cannot let public opinion drive policy in Iraq.

    Many things worth doing take great effort and force the enduring of hardships. This war is one of those things. The enemies of the US consider us weak because we give the impression of not being able to withstand those hardships. This senate resolution reinforces that impression.

    The public also has lost it’s ability to endure setbacks and expect prolonged war activities. With a press corp reporting bad news while ignoring good news and historical perspective I would expect the public to tire of this war as it has. But that doesn’t mean we should go wobbly.

    The public is what it is but the Senate should know better. It should understand nuance is foreign policy and how perceptions can make a difference. It should know an army needs a leader not 100 of them. The Senate should know history and it’s place in our government. The Senate should know how to act but they continue to act as if each were a nationally elected leader.

    So the discussion should be as much about who makes the decision as what the decision is. As I see it the Senate should stand down on this.

    I would like to hear your views on the proper role of the Senate in war matters. Thanks.

  10. legion says:

    Gladly – and I appreciate the question. One of the images that a lot of regular civilians I deal with have of the military is that it is a vast, monolithic, homogenous mass of clones. And frankly, to a certain extent, it’s an image the military fosters. We are often told, especially in a staff or HQ environment, that you can argue all you want behind closed doors, but once the commander makes a decision, everyone salutes and follows through.

    But there’s a flip side to that coin… The chain of command goes both ways – everyone has a boss. If I feel my boss is doing something Wrong – not just poorly, but in a dangerous or illegal manner – and I can’t get him to change, I have the option of going ‘over his head’ to the next commander in the chain. In fact under some circumstances – there was some discussion of this during the Abu Ghraib scandals – where I am obligated, even directed, to report a commander’s actions to higher authorities.

    And that brings us to this discussion. There’s a phrase – I think it’s more Army than AF, but I like it – that goes, “fucking up by the numbers”. Basically, taking every available decision point, in turn, and making the worst choice possible at every turn. That’s how I, and an increasing number of people across the spectrum of America are seeing Bush’s management of Iraq and the war on terror in general – we flat-out do not have confidence in his ability to handle the responsibility of Commander-in-Chief. And there are no generals that outrank him we can go to.

    Should Congress be managing military operations? No. As you & many others point out, it’s not their job. And many parallels have been drawn between Bush and Lincoln, who had to fire & replace several Army chiefs who weren’t getting the job done. But it’s not the Army that has Iraq fucked up by the numbers – it’s Bush.

    Holding the office of President doesn’t make Bush right on all military decisions any more than Papal infallibility gives Benedict winning lottery numbers every week. If the CinC is not competent enough to do anything other than get our troops killed at varying speeds for the next two years, happily handing the remains of an enormous disaster over to the next administration, content to have no real plan for victory beyond “hit it with a bigger hammer”, then having Congress step in and give Bush an attitude adjustment may be the lesser of two evils.

  11. And apparently by your metrics, Abraham Lincoln was a much greater f*&%er-upper than George Bush. I mean, Abraham Lincoln lost 7,000 men in 20 minutes at Cold Harbor, about which even General Grant wrote in his memoirs, “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made… At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”

    Check out this summary from Wikipedia about the battle of Cold Harbor:

    The battle caused a rise in anti-war sentiment in the Northern States. Grant became known as the “fumbling butcher” for his poor decisions. It also lowered the morale of his remaining troops. But the campaign had served Grant’s purpose—as foolish as his attack on Cold Harbor was, Lee was trapped. He beat Grant to Petersburg, barely, but spent the remainder of the war (save its final week) defending Richmond behind a fortified trench line. Although Southerners realized their situation was desperate, they hoped that Lee’s stubborn (and bloody) resistance would have political repercussions by causing Abraham Lincoln to lose the 1864 presidential election to a more peace-friendly candidate.

    Of course, any similarity between George McClellan calling Abraham Lincoln the “original gorilla” and those who call George Bush “Chimpy McHitlerburton” is purely coincidental. If I remember correctly, every man in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet thought they could do a better job than he. Everything old is new again, right senators?