WASHINGTON – Top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees will offer a resolution as early as Friday, calling on President Bush to develop detailed contingency plans for getting the U.S. out of Iraq, a move that could attract support from more in the GOP.
Warner and Lugar are not waiting until the September report from the top generals and U.S. ambassador in Iraq before calling for a change, but their nonbinding measure will give the Bush administration until then to develop alternatives to the current mission.
The two are getting set to unveil an amendment to the defense authorization bill that calls on the White House to develop a contingency plan for withdrawal. The resolution would be non-binding.
"We are not in a position to make changes to U.S. policy. We can make recommendations. We can set forth findings, which we will do," Lugar, a highly respected foreign policy expert in the Senate, said just off the Senate floor Thursday in a preview of what can be expected. "We're not in a position to mandate a withdrawal.
"We've tried to be more specific here and maybe more specific in the areas we thought were especially important, especially in the area of diplomacy," Lugar said.
Like many Republicans now joining Democrats who have long called for redeployment, Warner is sounding more and more frustrated and fed up with the Iraqi government. The frustration comes as U.S. military and diplomatic officials gave the Iraqi government a satisfactory rating on eight of 18 political and security benchmarks, a mixed rating on two and an unsatisfactory rating on eight benchmarks in the White House report given to Congress on Thursday.
White House officials emphasized that the report was an interim, designed to measure progress in Iraq. They continued to place emphasis on the September report, which will include the comments and recommendations of Gen. David Petreaus, head of Multinational Forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Warner said that as the author of the legislation requiring the president to issue two reports on Iraqi benchmarks, he is disappointed that the Iraqi government has not yet met critical political benchmarks outlined by the U.S. Congress.
"That government is simply not providing leadership worthy of the considerable sacrifice of our forces, and this has to change immediately," Warner said.
But an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took exception to the report and its characterizations.
"We are making progress. A lot of people say there is pressure and we have a deadline. There is no such thing. I think for the most part it looks like a war in Washington, a media war, more than a war in Iraq," adviser Basam Ridha told FOX News.
"The question is: a failing grade as far as the Americans are concerned or as far as we are concerned, which we count the most. … We are going to conduct our own business, for our own country, for our own agenda, for the thing that works for us," Ridha said.
The statement from Warner, a longtime supporter of the president and the most influential Republican in the Senate on military issues, suggests that more in the party could begin calling for a change of mission in Iraq.
Already, four Republicans have signed on to legislation calling for a sharp withdrawal of troops in the next eight months.
GOP Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Gordon Smith of Oregon have expressed support for a proposal by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed to set a deadline for a troop pullout to begin within 120 days of the bill becoming law or with a mandatory April 30, 2008, deadline to transition the mission in Iraq to one of a limited force fighting Al Qaeda, training Iraqis and protecting U.S. troops — which could be as many as 10,000, who remain on the ground.
Sen Susan Collins, R-Maine, has said she feels it is time "to dramatically change and narrow the mission," but she is not yet ready to sign on to the Levin-Reed amendment because, she said, she's not sure she is comfortable with setting an exact date for the withdrawal.
Collins said she prefers a proposal she has crafted with conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska calling for an immediate change of mission with a goal of completing the change by the end of March 2008. Nevertheless, Collins said she could end up supporting the Levin-Reed proposal as "it's important to send a powerful message to the Iraqis that our presence in Iraq is not unconditional and is not open-ended."
Separately, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has joined with Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., in proposing legislation that would codify all 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which also has proposed setting a goal of removing all combat troops out by April 1, 2008, "subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground."
That legislation, which does not tie President Bush's hands, has the support of Republican Sens. Judd Gregg and John Sununu of New Hampshire, Robert Bennett of Utah and Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, in one of the toughest expected re-election fights next year, said late Thursday he will vote for the measure.