Escalation opposition: A McCain alternative?

He envisions a resolution that would include benchmarks for measuring progress. The White House says they're already there.

Published January 25, 2007 8:49PM (EST)

In search of a safe haven for senators who either support George W. Bush's plan to escalate the war or just don't want to be seen caught voting against it, John McCain says he's thinking about drafting his own resolution to compete with the two already working their way toward the Senate floor.

"The goal is to try to salvage this situation and not send the additional troops with a message of disapproval," McCain told reporters earlier today. We're not sure which "situation" he has in mind -- the one in which the United States finds itself as it mismanages a war that it never should have started, or the rather dire political situation in which McCain finds himself after taking a position on the escalation that puts him on the wrong side of just about everyone who doesn't draw a White House paycheck. And we're not sure what sort of resolution McCain has in mind, either. He said today only that he's envisioning something that would set benchmarks by which the United States -- Congress? The president? -- could measure the effectiveness of the escalation.

That sounds a lot like the idea floated last week by House Republican leaders. It also sounds a lot like what the White House says it's already doing. The president has said that his new plan includes "benchmarks" and that the United States will be holding the Iraqi government to them. At the same time, the president's new commander for Iraq has said that he's going to be sending additional troops to Baghdad no matter what the Iraqis do.

Will McCain's measure try to give meaning to the "benchmarks" the White House claims it has already set? Will it establish consequences if those "benchmarks" aren't met? That would be a serious step in congressional oversight of the war -- indeed, given the fact that the White House is going to press ahead with its escalation no matter what Congress says, it would be a far more meaningful response than either of the existing resolutions. Which is another way of saying that we're not holding our breath.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Iraq Iraq War John Mccain R-ariz. Middle East