Published September 13, 2007
WASHINGTON – Setting the stage for yet another showdown with the Bush administration over Iraq policy, top Senate Democratic leaders vowed to fight plans to withdraw roughly 30,000 troops from Iraq, saying those plans do not go far enough.
"It appears the president's dug in, unwilling to recognize that his strategy is placing all the burden on our military, and it's simply not working," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
"His plan is neither to draw down, nor a change in mission that we need. His plan is simply more of the same: to keep at least 130,000 troops — American troops — in the midst of an intractable civil war. This is unacceptable to me, unacceptable to the American people," Reid said.
Reid, backed by top Democratic war policy leaders Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed, said the president needs to change the course on the war in Iraq and spend more efforts fighting the war against Al Qaeda.
Thursday, President Bush is expected to deliver a 15-minute speech endorsing the plan laid out earlier this week by Gen. David Patraeus and U.S. Ambassasdor to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
Watch Bush's speech live on FOX News Channel or FOXNews.com at 9 p.m. ET., and watch the Democratic response delivered by Sen. Jack Reed immediately afterward streaming live on FOXNews.com.
Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Crocker spent two days on Capitol Hill, telling lawmakers that violence in Iraq is down, there are increasing signs of stability, and troops can begin to come home. They admitted that political progress in Iraq — one of the chief purposes of sending the additional 30,000 troops into Iraq this year — has stagnated, and they declined to answer what they would recommend if the political situation remained this way midway through next year.
Petraeus said he could immediately begin withdrawing one Marine expeditionary unit, and by mid-July, 2008, would recommend bringing home five combat brigades plus to more Marine battalions sent to support Bush's troop surge plan that he laid out in January. That would bring the current level of troops — standing at about 168,000 — down to roughly 130,000.
President Bush is scheduled to deliver a nationwide address Thursday, in which he will give his support to recommendations outlined this week by Petraeus and Crocker. Bush on Friday will appear at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., to deliver war policy remarks. Vice President Dick Cheney will speak Friday in Grand Rapids, Mich., and MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
Bush is expected to place more conditions on reductions than his general did, insisting that conditions on the ground must warrant cuts and that now-unforeseen events could change the plan.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Tony Snow disputed Democrats' claims that there was no end in site
"I mean, it's pretty clear that it's not a war without end. And as a matter of fact, it is a war that actually has victory as its aim. And victory is defined as helping the Iraqis develop the capability of defending themselves and governing themselves," Snow said.
"So I think, in order to try to caricature it as a war without end is simply to ignore two days of testimony, including 11 hours yesterday in front of the United States Senate. It's just not true," Snow said.
The White House on Friday also will issue a congressionally mandated progress report on 18 political benchmarks. Snow said those benchmarks don't necessarily give the whole picture in Iraq.
"Benchmarks were something that Congress wanted to use as a metric. And we're going to produce a report," Snow said. "But the fact is that the situation is bigger and more complex, and you need to look at the whole picture."
Top Republican House members visiting Iraq voiced their support for the general's plan on Wednesday.
"Clearly what's happened over the past three or four months is success. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. This is real success," said House Majority Leader John Boehner in a telephone conference with reporters, adding, "I do think if we're continuing the kinds of success that we've been seeing, I think it will help Republicans who have stood up and made it clear success is important for national security."
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who joined Boehner on the trip, said a speedy withdrawal of troops would be counterproductive.
"I think if progress continues to be made, I think it would irresponsible to pull the plug or pull away," King said.
But at the Capitol Hill briefing, Reid said he hoped to muscle more Republicans over into Democrats' camp, dangling the specter of an election year debacle. If previous bills on Iraq policy serve as an example, Reid will needs four or five more Republican votes to gain enough support to break a bill-ending filibuster.
"I call on Senate Republicans to not walk lock-step as they have with the president for years in this war. It's time to change. It's the president's war, and at this stage, it appears clearly as also the Republican senators' war, and I hope that they will dump that legacy next week," Reid said.
Reid said that four to five amendments to the defense authorization bill will be introduced next week, but declined to specify what those amendments would include.
Reid also announced that his colleague Reed would be giving the Democrats' response to the president's address Thursday night. Reed, of Rhode Island, gave a preview of some of his comments Wednesday.
On the withdrawal recommendations, Reed said, "We have to go further. We have to limit our missions in Iraq, and we have to go ahead and recognize the strain on the military forces."
Reed said the troops should be limited to counterterror missions, force protection and training in Iraq.
"We have spent a huge amount of money, but more importantly, we have spent the lives of young Americans. Because of their sacrifice of service, they need a change of direction, a change in policy," Reed said.
Lawmakers on the campaign trail also took time Wednesday to voice their thoughts on the war, with Democrats jockeying for positions favoring withdrawal, and Republicans looking for footing on maintaining troop levels.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is on what he has dubbed "No Surrender" campaign tour in which he is touting his staunch longstanding support of the troop surge — dating to before Bush made it policy — and its success.
"We have suffered enormous losses and Americans are frustrated and angry ... but we do have a new strategy and a new general and it is succeeding and we ought to give it a chance to succeed," McCain told about 100 people at a rally for a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., spoke before an audience in Clinton, Iowa, calling for withdrawal of combat troops to begin immediately and be finished by the end of next year.
"Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq and there never was," Obama said.
"The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year — now," the Illinois senator said.
Republican hopeful Mitt Romney assailed Obama, arguing that the country would be less safe had the Illinois senator's drawdown strategy — "his retreat for political purpose" — been employed last January as he proposed.
"If we had followed his plan, Al Qaeda would have a safe haven in Iraq and Usama bin Laden would be celebrating," Romney said in a telephone interview with the AP from Midland, Texas, where he was speaking to a women's group.
"Had there not been a surge, had Barack Obama been running the country instead, Al Qaeda would now have a safe haven in Iraq, which would have made Afghanistan's safe haven look like child's play. I think Barack Obama has disqualified himself for presidential leadership," Romney said. "If we take the kind of left turn represented by Barack Obama and his flee-in-the-face-of-success strategy, we'd be in a very different position as a nation."
Also jumping on Obama, McCain said Obama's ideas are "dead wrong, and dangerous for the future of the country."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., also weighed in on the war Wednesday, sending Bush a letter urging him to bring troops home faster and not to use his prime-time speech Thursday to declare new successes in Iraq. She said Bush's planned announcement of a troop reduction would have happened any way when the troops would have had to come home at the end of their 15-month deployment.
"He is in essence going to tell the American people that one year from now the number of troops in Iraq will be the same as there were one year ago," she said after picking up the endorsement of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington. "Taking credit for this troop reduction is like taking credit for the sun coming up in the morning."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.