Anne Flaherty / AP – 2007-08-24 00:58:57
WASHINGTON (August 23, 2007) — President Bush should start bringing home some troops by Christmas to show the Baghdad government that the US commitment in Iraq is not open-ended, a prominent Republican senator said Thursday.
The move puts John Warner, a former Navy secretary and one-time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, at odds with the president, who says conditions on the ground should dictate deployments.
Warner, R-Va., said the troop withdrawals are needed because Iraqi leaders have failed to make substantial political progress, despite an influx of U.S. troops initiated by Bush this year.
The departure of even a small number of U.S. service members – perhaps 5,000 of the 160,000 troops in Iraq – would send a powerful message throughout the region that time was running out, Warner said.
“We simply cannot as a nation stand and continue to put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action,” he told reporters after a White House meeting with Bush’s top aides.
Warner’s new position is a sharp challenge to a wartime president that will undoubtedly color the upcoming Iraq debate on Capitol Hill. Next month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are expected to brief members on the war’s progress.
A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, declined to say whether Bush might consider Warner’s suggestion.
Asked whether Bush would leave the door open to setting a timetable, Johndroe said: “I don’t think the president feels any differently about setting a specific timetable for withdrawal. I just think it’s important that we wait right now to hear from our commanders on the ground about the way ahead.”
Republicans, including Warner, have so far stuck with Bush and rejected Democratic proposals demanding troops leave Iraq by a certain date. But an increasing number of GOP members have said they are uneasy about the war and want to see Bush embrace a new strategy if substantial progress is not made by September.
Warner, known for his party loyalty, said he still opposes setting a fixed timetable on the war or forcing the president’s hand.
“Let the president establish the timetable for withdrawal, not the Congress,” he said.
Nevertheless, his suggestion of troop withdrawals is likely to embolden Democrats and rile some of his GOP colleagues, who insist lawmakers must wait until Petraeus testifies.
His stature on military issues also could sway some Republicans who have been reluctant to challenge Bush.
Warner said he came to his conclusion after visiting Iraq this month with Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Armed Services Committee chairman; Warner is the committee’s second-ranking Republican. Levin said this week that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should be replaced. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., followed suit and told reporters Thursday that Maliki has been “a failure.”
Warner said he “could not go that far” to call for Maliki’s resignation. But he said he did have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the current leadership in Baghdad, which a U.S. intelligence report released Thursday also cited. The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq does not anticipate a political reconciliation in the next year and predicts the Iraqi government will become “more precarious” because of criticism from various sectarian groups.
“When I see an NIE which corroborates my own judgment – that political reconciliation has not taken place – the Maliki government has let down the U.S. forces and, to an extent, his own Iraqi forces,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the report confirms what most Americans already know: “Our troops are mired in an Iraqi civil war and the president’s escalation strategy has failed to produce the political results he promised to our troops and the American people.”
“Every day that we continue to stick to the president’s flawed strategy is a day that America is not as secure as it could be,” said Reid, D-Nev.
GOP Senator Calls for Troop Withdrawals
Anne Flaherty / Associated Press
WASHINGTON (August 24, 2007) — Sen. John Warner’s call for troop withdrawals from Iraq is likely to ratchet up pressure on President Bush substantially and lend momentum to Democratic efforts to end U.S. combat.
Warner, R-Va., former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Navy secretary during the Vietnam War, said Bush should bring some troops home by Christmas. Doing so, he told reporters Thursday, would send a powerful message that the U.S. commitment in Iraq was not open-ended.
Warner says the president should get to decide when and how many troops should leave. Bush has opposed setting a date to pull out troops and contends that conditions on the ground should dictate deployments.
“I’m hopeful that this (redeployment) could lead to more emphasis on the Iraqi forces taking the major responsibility, as it relates to the internal insurgency in that country,” the Virginia Republican said.
Warner’s suggestion comes as a new intelligence assessment says Iraqis have failed to govern effectively or reach the political compromises believed necessary to tamp down sectarian violence.
Overall, the report finds that Iraq’s security will continue to “improve modestly” over the next six to 12 months, provided that coalition forces mount strong counterinsurgency operations and mentor Iraqi forces. But even then, violence levels will remain high as the country struggles to achieve national political reconciliation, and the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is likely to become increasingly vulnerable because of criticism from various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
“The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decision-making, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability” to factions that could form a rivaling coalition, the document says.
Democrats say the grim report and Warner’s conclusion bolster their position that Bush should change course and start bringing troops home this fall. Party leaders this year tried to pass legislation ordering troops home this fall, but repeatedly fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass.
“Our military has performed their duties excellently, but the purpose of the escalation in Iraq was to create a secure environment in which political change could occur, and it is clear that the Iraqi leaders have failed to make progress,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Republican leaders countered that the intelligence assessment bolsters their position that U.S. troops should stay. The report warns that limiting the mission of U.S. forces to a support role and counterterrorist operations – as Democrats and some Republicans suggest – would “erode security gains achieved thus far.”
“The fact that Democratic leaders continue to push for precipitous withdrawal despite the significant progress our troops are making shows just how deeply invested they are in failure,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Democrats agree the military has made substantial gains in Iraq, but they say the progress made is useless if the Iraqi government is unable to take control.
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