WASHINGTON – The top Republican in the House says his party's support of President Bush's troop surge has a limit, though the failure of Iraqis to meet measures of progress does not mean the U.S. should leave that country to its own devices.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said Republicans want to see real signs of success in Iraq by the fall, and if not, a "Plan B" from the Bush administration. But, he said, the president has to be given the opportunity to let the troop surge strategy work.
"We don't even have all of the 30,000 additional troops in Iraq yet, so we're supporting the president. We want this plan to have a chance of succeeding," Boehner, R-Ohio, said of the plan to beef up the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad and al-Anbar province, where the deadliest fighting is occurring.
"Over the course of the next three to four months, we'll have some idea how well the plan's working. Early signs are indicating there is clearly some success on a number of fronts. By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B?" he told "FOX News Sunday."
That timetable drew criticism from House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel, who suggested Boehner's plans were motivated by personal interests.
"It's clear Congressman Boehner's new timetable for Iraq has less to do with the troops coming home, and has everything to do with his fear that House Republicans will be sent home," he said.
Last week, Bush vetoed a $124 billion bill to provide money for Iraq and Afghanistan operations in part because it required troops to begin returning home by Oct. 1, saying the fixed date is unworkable. Top White House aides are negotiating with Democratic leaders on a new war spending bill.
As the two sides negotiate a new war spending bill, they disagree on what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq. On Sunday, 12 U.S. soldiers died, adding to the nearly 3,400 U.S. military fatalities since the Iraq war started in March 2003. The 12 Americans died Sunday in a series of roadside bombings.
As Washington debates a way out of Iraq, Al Qaeda's second in command is using a new Internet video to say the war funding bill that Bush vetoed is proof of America's failure in Iraq. Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democratic presidential candidate, called the tape evidence of Al Qaeda's desire to keep the United States bogged down in Iraq in the midst of sectarian chaos.
"I'm not going to let my foreign policy be decided by Mr. al-Zawahiri. Obviously, he's playing his game here. He'd probably like to see us stay down there, bogged down, at the costs we're increasing here, the loss of lives, not to mention the isolation of the United States," he said.
"Sixty percent of the Iraqi people think it's all right to kill Americans. Eighty percent think we're the cause of the chaos in their country. You need a change in policy here. That's what we're trying to achieve. The president wants the status quo. That makes us less secure and more isolated, in my view," Dodd continued.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a fellow Democrat from New York, took a different approach to news of the Al Qaeda leader's tape.
"They're sworn against us and I think they're best ignored when they make kind of ridiculous propaganda statements like this. What we have to do is continue to focus on trying to eliminate Al Qaeda. That's mainly in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, but all around the world. But the more attention paid to statements like this, that's what they want," Schumer said.
But Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Al Qaeda is under fire all over the world, and Iraqis should recognize them for the role they are playing in that country.
"An Al Qaeda leader condemned Hashemi, the vice president of Iraq, a Sunni, for continuing to serve in the government, suggesting that that's totally out of line, and they ought to gang up on him. Sunnis ought to come in," Lugar, R-Ind., said.
Dodd, D-Conn., said he believes focusing on Al Qaeda's role in Iraq misses the point and keeps U.S. troops in a tenuous position.
"This is a civil war in Iraq. That's the problem here. And we're being asked to referee and resolve a civil conflict. The Iraqis have to make that decision. Al Qaeda elements are taking advantage of that," Dodd said.
"It is not a civil war," Boehner countered. "There is some sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia, most of it being stirred up by the Iranians. But it's Al Qaeda and their affiliates who have made Iraq their central front in their war with us."
Lugar agreed with Boehner's suggestion that adopting benchmarks that are tied to the threat of withdrawal would mean punishing the Iraqis for being bad politicians.
"Even if we get to Plan B, my point is we're going to have troops in Iraq for quite a while, and we've told all of the surrounding countries it's not just the United States, but each of them. .... It is not a question of simply abandoning it because the Iraqis were not very adept politicians. Now, hopefully, we can help them a whole lot. I think that we will. But by September, I think the congressman (Boehner) is correct. General Petraeus will be back. He'll make a report. Some things will go well. Some things will not go so well, but we'll still have an obligation."
But Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said it's ridiculous not to link a timetable for withdrawal to the spending bill. He added that Americans don't want to keep paying for a war without end and so Democrats will keep driving home that point.
"It would be ridiculous to think that we're going to just drop this fight," said Rangel, who is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. "This is not our fight. This is the American people's fight. They asked us to send a message to the president."
"We've got to shake that White House until the people of the United States are heard," Rangel said. "Sure, we've got to have some restrictions on the money."
Another Democratic presidential candidate, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, argued against negotiating and said lawmakers should keep sending Bush the same Iraq spending bill.
"I think that America has asked the Democratic leadership in the Congress to stand firm, and that's exactly what I'm saying they should do," he said.
Edwards started airing a television commercial last week urging Congress to stand up to Bush and keep sending back the vetoed bill, which sparked a quarrel with Dodd.
"With all due respect, we could have used John's vote here in the Senate on these issues here," Dodd said.
FOX News' Julie Kirtz and The Associated Pres contributed to this report.