WASHINGTON – Democrats signaled on Friday that they don't see much hope in ending the Iraq war this year so long as President Bush insists U.S. troops remain committed there in large numbers.
But party leaders wrote to Bush on Friday anyhow, telling him it's not too late to change course and pleading with him not to leave the war for the next president to handle.
"We are deeply concerned that you and the congressional Republican leadership are intent on staying the current course throughout your administration and then handing the Iraq war off to future presidents," the Democrats wrote.
Others said they hope to see continued efforts to force troop withdrawals, but acknowledged they were unlikely to succeed.
"I expect most of our troops to still be there" come the end of the year, said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
"Until there's either a big enough majority in the Senate or a change in the president's (approach), I don't see a significant improvement situation improvement in Iraq," he later added, in a conference call with reporters on Friday.
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in the same conference call predicted that the situation in Iraq will grow considerably worse by September "because the administration seems to have no political game plan."
Democrats are engaged in a full-court press against Bush's Iraq policy in advance of next week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador there. Petraeus and Crocker are expected to say the recent buildup in troops has succeeded in improving security. But, they also will say that a period of assessment is needed this summer before officials can decide whether troop withdrawals can continue.
Democrats called this approach unacceptable and said they would pursue an alternative policy through legislation. They said their focus will be on restoring the strength of the Army and Marines and refocusing the nation's resources on fighting terrorists in Afghanistan.
But Democrats face an uphill battle. Lacking a veto-proof majority, the party has repeatedly failed to force Bush to accept any anti-war legislation, including one measure supported by many Republicans that would have required that troops spend more time at home between combat tours.
Further, the only legislative approach guaranteed to end the war would be for Congress to cut off money for troops while in combat — a position that not enough Democrats support and which Republicans universally oppose.
The lack of options has left Democrats with mostly rhetoric, as it becomes all but certain that the next president will have to manage the war once Bush leaves office.
"The current Iraq strategy has no discernible end in sight and requires the United States to spend additional hundreds of billions of dollars despite urgent national needs in education, health care, and infrastructure improvement, and when high oil prices have provided the Iraqi government with billions in additional revenue that could pay for their own redevelopment and security," the Democratic leaders wrote in their letter.
"This strategy is neither sustainable nor in our broader national security or economic interest," they said.
The letter was signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Republicans said they were satisified with the outcome of last year's troop buildup.
"Gen. Petraeus has put us on a new path toward a successful and honorable end to the Iraq war," declared Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who last year questioned the administration's plans and supported legislation that would have set a goal of relinquishing the combat mission within 15 months.
Added House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio: "Our goal is to bring our troops home as soon as we can, but we need to bring them home after success, not failure."
Levin, D-Mich., said he plans to press Petraeus and Crocker next week on the recent Iraqi operation in Basra, which Democrats deemed a failure, and why Iraq's oil profits aren't being used to rebuild the country. Biden, D-Del., said he will have similar questions, including what political consequence might exist for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "missteps."
Levin said a critical mistake by the administration has been to "put all of our eggs in Maliki's basket," when Maliki has proven himself to be "incompetent" and running "a corrupt administration."
Levin and Biden also reiterated calls for the administration to release publicly a new classified intelligence assessment on Iraq. The report is said to be similar to the last assessment, delivered in August, which shows that significant security progress has been made. Many of the conclusions of the report are already reflected in public statements and press reports, U.S. officials said.
"I read it cover to cover," Biden said. "There is no reason why" to keep it classified.