WASHINGTON – In another setback to President Bush's increasingly unpopular war strategy, Republican Party stalwart Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he wanted to see an end to combat operations and U.S. troops heading home from Iraq by spring.
The longtime New Mexico senator is the latest of several party loyalists and former war supporters to abandon Bush on Iraq in the past 10 days. They have urged a change sooner rather than later and further isolated the Republican president in his attempt to defend the unpopular war.
Last week, Sens. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, and George Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio, said the U.S. should significantly reduce its military presence in Iraq while bolstering diplomatic efforts. Republican Sen. John Warner, of Virginia, is expected to propose a new approach this month.
"I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops," Domenici said. "But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."
With Congress on its July Fourth break, Domenici made his views known Thursday at a news conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, though he said he has not talked to the administration about wanting a strategy shift.
"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward," he said.
Domenici was elected in 1972 and is a senior member of a panel that oversees defense spending. He said at the news conference that parents of those killed in Iraq previously told him the United States should stay in Iraq as long as it takes. Now, he said, some parents have asked him to do more to bring the troops home sooner.
The senator said the situation in Iraq is getting worse. He said he now supports a bipartisan bill that embraces the findings of the independent Iraq Study Group.
In December, the group said the primary mission of U.S. troops should evolve to supporting Iraqi security forces. The report also said the U.S. should reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the Baghdad government cannot make substantial progress.
The group said combat troops could be out by March 2008 if specific steps were taken.
The bill would make most of the group's findings official U.S. policy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said it was time Republicans back up their words with action and vote to bring troops home.
A spokesman for the White House, Tony Fratto, said the troop buildup had only recently reached full strength, and said Bush's plan should be given more time to work.