New Senators: Bush Should Engage Mideast

Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill greets supporters at the Downtown Marriott in Kansas City, Mo, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. McCaskill is attempting to unseat Republican Sen. Jim Talent. (AP Photo/Dick Whipple)
AP Photo/Dick Whipple
As the fighting between the Sunni and Shiite in Iraq continues to escalate — the most deadly attack of late occurred on Thursday when more than 200 people in a Shiite district of Baghdad were killed — the newly elected Democratic Congress will be forced to confront the United States involvement in an increasingly unpopular and deadly war.

On Face The Nation, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported that "in all the times I've been here, I've never seen our Iraqi colleagues quite so scared."

Palmer said the Iraqi government has been calling for unity. But many Iraqis see Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as weak, and he is unable to disarm militias as the United States is asking. The situation presents a difficult set of problems to incoming freshman senators, three of which appeared on Face The Nation.

Senator-elect Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she thinks the United States will have to begin to withdraw from the ravaged nation.

"All of us know that we have made a terrible mistake in Iraq. There are no good answers right now. None," she said.

She said was eager for the soon-to-be released Baker-Hamilton report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group lead by former Secretary of State James Baker, who served in the first Bush administration, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.

Meanwhile, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is threatening that if al-Maliki meets with Bush when the president travels to the Middle East next week, he will pull out of the government. Because his faction controls eight key ministries, his withdrawal could mean the end of this government.

The violence has Senator-elect Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, convinced that the argument he made throughout his campaign — that troops should be redeployed within a year and a half to two years — is correct.

"It's pretty clear that this 'stay the course' strategy isn't working. Today marks the day that this war is as long as World War II, and the exit strategy needs to begin immediately," he said on Face The Nation. "I don't think the Iraqis are ever going to build their police, their military or police security forces on their own until they know that there is a date that we are leaving. And I think we're beginning to see that coming from the administration with a little more clarity."

Both Brown and McCaskill said it is important for Bush to involve Middle Eastern nations that have a large stake in what happens to Iraq in solving the problems there. They said they are encouraged by his upcoming trip to the region.

Senator-elect Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said all Americans want to see a change in strategy in Iraq — but that he cannot image leaving the embattled nation without Iraq having a secure government.

"I think all of us really … want to see what's going to happen this with report," he said. "That could mean everything from actually adding more troops in the short term to make sure that Baghdad can be secured and we can start doing some things with the militias that make sense there in the country."

Corker broke with the Bush administration on its stance on direct discussion with Iran and Syria and said "we have to talk with all the players in the region.

"I know it's disconcerting. Syria may have played a role in Lebanon, recently, in a way that's very destructive, obviously, with the governmental leader that was just killed. We'll find out whether that's true or not," he said. "But the fact is that, even though they are our enemies in many regards, we have to engage people in the region. The fact is they're neighboring countries. They have people that are in and out of the country."

McCaskill said she is concerned that many people have gotten rich off the war in Iraq and Congress's role is to ask questions about how money is being spent.

"I think we can begin asking the questions that haven't been asked about war profiteering, about why it is we've spent $350 billion and some of our guys still don't have the right armor," she said.

McCaskill acknowledged that both Democrats and Republicans may be trying to get the Baker-Hamilton report to find a solution rather than coming up with a workable way to deal with Iraq — but in the end, she said the President is in charge of foreign policy.

"Congress has a role, but it is oversight. It is accountability," she said. "And I think the American people have a role by speaking loudly, as they have in this election, telling the administration we do not want to stay the course. Now, we need to do whatever we can do in Congress to try to further that along, but it is unrealistic that we're going to pull the plug on the financing to make sure that our troops have what they need that are on the ground in Iraq."

Brown said he is certain that newly elected Republicans will also apply pressure on the Bush administration.

"I just see the open-mindedness of my new colleague from Tennessee, Senator-elect Corker and the comments he's made," Brown said. "There is more — if the president hasn't gotten the message from the electorate, which I think he's beginning to get the message about Iraq, he's going to get it from his House and Senate Republicans, more and more of them, and the Democrats, who are saying they want more accountability, number one, on how the dollars are being spent and on what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq."