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Is a bipartisan war policy possible?

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Congress needs to ask, and get answers, to tough questions, said Senator Lugar and others in some 10 hours of testimony Tuesday. These include how the US will leverage new relationships with Sunni forces in Iraq into a rough balance of power with the Shiites. How will we maintain any enthusiasm among Shiite leaders for our goals if they perceive we are strengthening Sunni rivals? Lugar asked.

Asked by Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin how the US commitments in Iraq affected the larger global fight against terrorism, General Petraeus said that he was "focused on his area of responsibility," the mission in Iraq.

In the run-up to next week's debate on the defense authorization bill, lawmakers in both parties are scrambling for a new center.

Sens. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan and Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island say they are recasting a measure that originally called for beginning the withdrawal of US forces 120 days after the bill passes, to end by April 30, 2008. In July, the amendment fell eight votes short of overcoming a Republican filibuster.

"We need to put a little more elbow room into it to get 60 votes," says Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon, who was one of four Republicans to back the Levin-Reed amendment last July.

Instead of setting a fixed endpoint for US deployment in Iraq, he proposes setting a goal. "We need to make sure there is sufficient stability that Iraq doesn't become a failed state or a client state for Iran and also to make sure it does not lead to a regional war," Senator Smith adds.

On the House side, Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D) of Hawaii, John Tanner (D) of Tennessee, and Phil English (R) of Pennsylvania are pushing to get a vote on their measure to require the president to report to Congress on redeployment planning within 60 days – and every 90 days thereafter. The move, sponsors say, gives Congress a voice in war strategy and is the only prospect for a strong, bipartisan vote. The measured passed out of the House Armed Services committee on a 55-to-2 vote.

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