Defense Secretary Warns Congress Against Tying Military's Hands in Iraq; Bush Challenges Congress

Saturday , January 27, 2007




Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress against handcuffing military leaders in Iraq as lawmakers pushed toward a vote next week that would rebuke the president's Iraq war policy.

Speaking with reporters Friday afternoon, Gates took aim at any resolution that would hinder military leaders and give the message to the enemy that U.S. troops will be in the battlefield without the proper support to succeed.

"It's pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says, 'the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he needs to be successful,' certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries," Gates said. "Any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks. I'm sure that's not the intent of the resolutions but I think it might be the effect."

The comments were part of a vocal push led by President Bush against the proposed congressional action. Bush is facing criticism on both sides of the aisle in Congress for his plan, which includes sending another 21,500 troops to Iraq in an attempt to settle the war-torn country.

Top leaders in Congress are pushing two non-binding resolutions opposing Bush's plan, while another powerful Republican is drafting a third.

After an Oval Office meeting with top military leaders, Bush on Friday told reporters he is the "decision-maker" when it comes to Iraq, and that he chose the plan he thought would be the most effective.

"One of the things I found in Congress is that most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States, and I'm the decision-maker. I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster," Bush said.

Among those at the White House meeting was Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who had just been confirmed by the Senate as the top U.S. commander in Iraq to replace Gen. George Casey. Casey has been nominated to become the Army chief of staff.

Bush said Petraeus would be integral to his plan.

"My instruction to him was, 'Get over to the zone as quickly as possible, and implement a plan that will achieve our goals,'" Bush said.

"You're going into an important battle in the war on terror," he told Petraeus.

Bush again issued his call to Congress to offer a better plan if they have one.

"I've worked with a lot of members of Congress. I've listened carefully to their suggestions, and I have picked the plan that is most likely to succeed because I understand, like many in Congress understand, that success is very important to the security of this country," Bush said.

Noting "skepticism and pessimism" among lawmakers, Bush said "some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work, and they have a obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work."

In the Senate

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved by a 12-9 vote a resolution that says "it is not in the national interest" to increase of U.S. troops presence in Iraq. The resolution is co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Carl Levin, D-Mich. Hagel was the only Republican on the committee to vote in favor of the measure.

That resolution is expected to be taken up by the Senate sometime next week for debate, and could be voted on as soon as the following week.

Another resolution, sponsored by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. — which is seen as a softer criticism of the president — could pull away Republicans who are uncomfortable with the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution.

Warner specifically mentioned Bush's calls for better plans when he unveiled his resolution earlier this week. The proposed resolution says "the Senate disagrees" with the president's plan, and "urges the president to instead consider all options," including suggestions by the Iraq Study Group.

Warner sent Biden's group a letter Thursday evening stating he would not negotiate a compromise, and some aides have said there are attempts to prevent Warner's bill from being considered. But with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate, it might be impossible to prevent rival proposals if Democrats hope to gain enough Republican supporters to hit the 60 votes to break a filibuster.

And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been distributing a draft of a resolution around Capitol Hill that would ask the administration to set benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, talking to reporters, issued a strong warning to Republicans who might seek to block the vote, but also indicated that the Biden and Warner resolutions could be melded together.

"I don't know if we'll get to 60 votes, but I'll tell you one thing, there are 21 Republicans up for re-election this time. If they think this is going to be a soft vote for them, they've got another thing coming," Reid said.

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Friday that if he were to bring a resolution to the chamber floor that it must include some sort of benchmarks.

"If we're going to do some kind of a resolution ... we should make it abundantly clear that this is the last chance," McConnell said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, speaking at the Brookings Institution on Friday, predicted that the Senate and House would succeed in passing resolutions, each of which "makes clear that we need a real change in course."

Hoyer also promised heavy inspection and scrutiny of the Bush administration through "a lot" of hearings

"Our goal in the House is to conduct the kind of oversight of the president's policy that has been sorely missing during the nearly four years of this war," Hoyer said.

During the photo opportunity Friday, Bush also was asked about stepped-up activities in Iraq against Iranian activities thought to be fueling the violence.

Bush defended the policy, but said it is no indication that the United States intends to expand the confrontation beyond Iraq's borders.

"That's a presumption that's simply not accurate," Bush said, adding, "our policy is going to be to protect our troops. It makes sense."

FOX News' Trish Turner, Mike Emanuel and Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.