In a sign of the fundamental shift being made by the new Congress, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week passed a bipartisan resolution introduced by Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) opposing President Bush’s military escalation plan for Iraq. The measure could come before the full Senate next week.

“It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by increasing the United States military force presence in Iraq,” the resolution states. While saying the U.S. should press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for ending the violence, including developing a political solution, the measure calls for U.S. diplomatic efforts to engage nations in the region in developing a peace and reconciliation process for Iraq.

In an indication of the significance of this unprecedented Senate action, the Bush administration is reportedly pulling out all stops to block it or even any alternative that challenges the escalation move.

Although Hagel was the only Republican committee member to vote for the resolution, others including Ohio’s George Voinovich and Indiana’s Richard Lugar raised basic concerns about the administration’s Iraq policy during the committee debate. Other Senate Republicans have spoken against the escalation. It indicates growing Republican ire over the catastrophic situation in Iraq.

The Biden-Hagel resolution, while a nonbinding expression of the Senate’s opinion, represents a historic first step on the road to ending the Iraq war, bringing the troops home and shifting resources to human needs. It reflects the mandate of voters in November, reinforced in last week’s massive peace actions.

Especially in the Senate, with its one-vote Democratic margin, but also in the House of Representatives, harnessing the growing bipartisan energy for fundamental change in U.S. policy is crucial to the success of more far-reaching measures to stop funding the war, bring troops home and ban permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

An ancient proverb tells us the longest journey must start with a first step. We urge all-out support for the first step now being considered in the halls of the U.S. Senate. Oppose the escalation.