WASHINGTON – President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday that House Democrats will assure failure in Iraq and waste the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers with legislation to remove troops.
Democratic critics are demanding faster progress. They say Bush has mishandled the four-year-old war, at tremendous cost to the United States.
The House this week plans to vote on a war spending bill that includes a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008. Lawmakers know the president will veto the measure, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said, making the exercise a "charade."
"If we do a premature withdrawal, then what we have is a situation where the Iraqi forces cannot handle the situation, which is the case now," Hadley said. "We have Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists who will destabilize the neighbors and attack us."
The timeline, under the House bill, would speed up if the Iraqi government cannot meet its own benchmarks for providing security, allocating oil revenues and other essential steps.
"They talk about us micromanaging. They've mismanaged the war so badly, they put the commanders in impossible positions," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who heads the House subcommittee that controls defense spending.
He added: "The public wants us out. They spoke in the last election. They're ignoring the mandate that the public gave the Congress of the United States, and in the end, they're going to have to redeploy."
The House plan appears to have little chance of getting through the Senate, where Democrats have a slimmer majority. Even if it did, Bush has promised to veto it. But the White House is aggressively trying to stop it anyway, fearful of the message the world will hear if the House approves a binding bill to end the war.
Hadley said the legislation is arbitrary. It is not realistic, for example, for Iraqis to complete political reconciliation on a time line, he said.
"Our plea is, let's not go through this charade. Let's have the Congress present to the president a responsible bill that gives General Petraeus and the men and women in uniform the funding they need and the flexibility they need to get the job done," Hadley said. He was referring to Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, too, said Sunday the House bill could make it impossible for military commanders to do their work.
"Frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal regardless of the circumstances on the ground than it is about trying to produce a positive outcome," Gates said.
Congressional Democrats, put in power in large part because of anti-war public sentiment, are trying to use their power of the purse to force action. So far, Iraq's leadership is struggling to meet the major benchmarks that it has pledged to the United States.
Hadley himself has questioned the ability of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to control violence in his country. In a memo disclosed last November, he said the story on the streets of Baghdad suggested Maliki "is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."
On Sunday, Hadley offered a much different assessment.
"He has grown in office," Hadley said. "He has grown in confidence. He has grown in competence. You can see it."
The impending House vote concerns a $124 billion spending bill, $95.5 billion of which is targeted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of the other money is for unrelated domestic programs, which also has angered the White House.
Hadley said the Iraqi people, despite their suffering, believe they are better off now than under Saddam Hussein. The key to success is to provide security in the country, particularly around Baghdad, he said. Toward that end, Bush has ordered 21,500 more combat troops to Baghdad and Anbar province, along with support units that could total another 7,000 troops.
"The cost has been enormous for the Iraqis," Hadley said. "The interesting thing is that the Iraqis are nonetheless willing to pay it."
Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 50,000 and could be significantly higher; the estimates vary widely. More than 3,200 members of the U.S. military have died during the war, and more than 24,000 have been wounded in hostile action.
The war begins its fifth year this week.
Hadley spoke on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "Late Edition." Gates spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation." Murtha spoke on CNN's "Late Edition."