WASHINGTON In terms of the politics of the Iraq War, President Bush is indeed a uniter, not a divider.
He has essentially united the Democrats who represent Western New York in Congress to oppose his proposed buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Even Democrats who voted in 2002 to authorize the war, such as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, now oppose the plan Bush laid out Wednesday night for an increase in the number of troops.
And Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo, who was talking only a year ago about staying the course in Iraq, is now saying that a troop expansion would be one more step on Bush's path to failure in Iraq.
In comments before the speech, only one local member of Congress Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence offered strongly encouraging words.
In contrast, all the Democrats essentially agreed with Clinton, who released a statement after the speech that said: "The president has not offered a new direction. Instead he will continue to take us down the wrong road only faster."
Instead of increasing the number of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Clinton suggested a phased redeployment of U.S. troops to pressure the Iraqi government to resolve the nation's political problems. Clinton also suggested establishment of an Iraq Oil Trust to end the sectarian stalemate over the country's oil riches, and diplomacy with neighboring nations to encourage them to help stabilize Iraq.
"American troops continue to serve and sacrifice in Iraq, performing magnificently and bravely," she said. "But as our commanders have said repeatedly, Iraq requires a political solution, not a purely military one, and we did not hear such a proposed solution tonight."
As for Schumer, he said before the speech: "Right now, if you asked me in the abstract would you support this escalation, this 'surge,' I'd say I couldn't, because there's no change in strategy."
Schumer said he did not want to offer a detailed take on the president's plan until after the speech. But Schumer made clear that he is not ready to commit more American troops to a war that is very different from the one he authorized to use force against Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who was believed to have been harboring weapons of mass destruction and who has since been executed.
"Our brave young men and women from Western New York and throughout America are policing a civil war where the Sunnis shoot at the Shiites and the Shiites shoot at the Sunnis, and our soldiers are in between," Schumer said. "That is not what anyone bargained for."
Higgins, who only a year ago was warning that cutting the number of U.S. troops would lead to a civil war, conceded before the speech that Iraq had fallen into a civil war despite the presence of 132,000 U.S. troops.
"The events of the past several months have made clear that no workable military solution remains for Iraq," Higgins said. "Any such opportunity came and went three years ago."
Echoing the comments of other House Democrats, Higgins noted that similar troop "surges" were tried in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Fairport Democrat who has opposed the war since it was first proposed, was also sharply critical of the so-called troop surge.
"Because of Iraq, our military is broken," she said. "And yet the president wants to place even greater strains on its equipment, our soldiers and their families."
In contrast, Reynolds stressed that Bush was proposing a comprehensive plan that aimed to reinforce Iraq's security forces and its political system.
He said the plan would force Iraq to protect its own population. The U.S. troop buildup "would provide reinforcements to our troops so they can succeed in their mission," Reynolds said.
While seeing things entirely differently, local Democrats said they would oppose any proposal to withhold funding from the American troops already on the ground in Iraq.
But Higgins said the Democrats' widespread disagreement with Bush's plan would temper his plans to expand U.S. forces.
"The Congress is no longer a rubber stamp for the president and his war in Iraq," Higgins said. "It forces him to look at other options."