HELENA, Mont. – Sen. Conrad Burns says he believes President Bush has a plan to win the war in Iraq but is keeping it quiet, a statement Democrats pounced on Wednesday as reminiscent of comments made during another divisive war.
Burns, at a debate Tuesday night with Democratic challenger Jon Tester, said he believes Bush has a plan to win — but added: "we're not going to tell you what our plan is."
Burns, who has said repeatedly the country must stay in Iraq as long as it takes to win the war, also seemed to suggest a new path may be needed in Iraq. He pointed to fellow Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who has recently called for a new strategy in Iraq.
"We have to change our tactics with the enemy and how it changes its tactics," said Burns, a member of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. "And in some cases, we have not been able to do that. I agree with Senator Warner and his assessment. If we don't change, we will pay a heavier price. But we cannot lose it."
Democrats likened Burns' comments to statements by President Nixon that led to news reports that he had a "secret plan" to end or win the war in Vietnam. Like Nixon, Burns never used the word "secret" but made it clear it wasn't in the president's or the country's interest to discuss any plans he has for winning the war.
Matt McKenna, a Tester campaign spokesman, said Burns' comments were eerily similar to Nixon's.
"I think the comparison is two politicians who put their own ambitions above the safety and success of the troops," McKenna said Wednesday.
In a tense exchange with Tester, who has taken a slim lead in recent polls, Burns hammered the Democratic challenger for his call on the president to develop a plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
"He wants everyone to know our plan. That's not smart," Burns said.
"He said our president (doesn't) have a plan. I think he's got one, but he's not going to tell everybody in the world," Burns added. "If you want to go out and spar for a fight, are you going to tell your enemy what your plan is? I don't think so."
Burns later said: "There is a plan. We're not going to tell you, Jon."
McKenna said the comments were those of a senator behind in recent polls who wants to keep his job.
"Nobody actually believes that he (Burns) has a plan, or even a seat at the table where plans are made," McKenna said.
Burn's spokesman Jason Klindt, said the senator is adamant that details of a plan to win should not be released, including any deadline for troop withdrawal.
He said he doesn't know if Burns knows any specifics of a Bush administration plan to win the war in Iraq.
"I think he knows the general strategy," Klindt said.