WASHINGTON - Arizona Sen. John McCain called Thursday for President Bush to commit a division or more of fresh troops to quell the worst fighting in Iraq since the war began a year ago.
McCain, a leading Republican, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, called Iraq ‘‘our biggest foreign-policy test in a generation’’ and one that should serve as a ‘‘wake-up call’’ for Washington policymakers.
The Vietnam War hero and member of the Senate Armed Service Committee called for a debate over Iraq policy, but said ‘‘bipartisan resolve’’ and
‘‘unified American political leadership’’ were essential.
‘‘The president must make clear to the American people the scale of the commitment required to prevail in Iraq,’’ McCain said. ‘‘He needs to be perfectly frank: Bringing peace and democracy to Iraq is an enormous endeavor that will be very expensive, diffi- cult and long.’’
McCain’s remarks were the strongest call yet from any lawmaker to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. With violence surging, the Bush administration is in a quandary over whether to commit more troops or stick to its plan of trying to build Iraqi security forces, whose performance in recent fighting has been lackluster.
McCain also called on the United States to seek troop contributions from other countries. But the ‘‘fundamental truth,’’ he said, ‘‘is that we face the security task mostly alone.’’
There are about 135,000 American troops in Iraq. Another division would add 20,000.
‘‘It’s painfully clear that we need more troops,’’ said McCain, noting that former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki had told Congress before the war that several hundred thousand would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq.
‘‘We must deploy at least another full division, and probably more,’’ McCain said.
If the United States leaves Iraq, ‘‘violence will fill the vacuum as groups struggle for political power, and we risk all-out civil war,’’ he said. ‘‘At the very least, scores will be settled, warlords will reign and the violence we see today will pale in comparison to the bloodletting.’’
Some of McCain’s fellow Republicans disagreed.
‘‘Everyone talks about whether we need additional forces there,’’ said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. ‘‘Obviously, we do, but it’s Iraqi forces that we hope to have. It’s their country, after all.’’
In three days of sometimes contentious hearings on Capitol Hill this week, Bush administration officials have struggled to explain the strategy for quelling the violence in Iraq and how they plan to return power to the Iraqi people June 30.
Congress has asked how much U.S. involvement in Iraq will cost next year, whom exactly the American-led coalition is turning over power to and how much authority a new Iraqi government will have over U.S. troops as they continue to try to stamp out the insurgency.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration needed to show a detailed plan on its Iraq strategy and should develop cost estimates.
Ranking committee Democrat Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware also has blasted the administration for failing to tell Congress how much it expects to spend in Iraq next year.