Dems reject Bush's plea for patience on Iraq plan
Source: Orlando Sentinel 03/20/2007
WASHINGTON -- On the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war, President Bush and Congress' Democratic leaders clashed over whether lawmakers should move to bring U.S. troops home -- and whether they can.
With the House set to vote this week on a war-spending bill that would effectively withdraw U.S. combat troops by fall 2008, Bush made clear that he doesn't think it is lawmakers' place to challenge his battle plan.
"They have a responsibility to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission," Bush said in remarks televised from the White House. "They have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special-interest spending for their districts. And they have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay."
Democrats countered that voters had put them in control of Congress to challenge Bush.
"The American people have lost confidence in President Bush's plan for a war without end in Iraq," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "That failed approach has been rejected by the voters in our nation, and it will be rejected by the Congress."
With the war lumbering into its fifth year, it has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military. Predictions about the cost and length of the war have been far surpassed. The public overwhelmingly opposes the war, and Bush's approval rating stands near his all-time low. Trying to halt spiraling sectarian bloodshed, Bush has ordered nearly 30,000 additional combat and support troops to Iraq, mostly to stabilize Baghdad.
The president pleaded for patience to give his strategy more time to work.
"The new strategy will need more time to take effect," he said. "Until Baghdad's citizens feel secure in their own homes and neighborhoods, it will be difficult for Iraqis to make further progress toward political reconciliation or economic rebuilding, steps necessary for Iraq to build a democratic society."
From Capitol Hill, Democrats said patience has run out.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn said Democrats were intent on "ending the blank check for the president's war and setting a timeline for the phased redeployment of our U.S. military."
Added Clyburn, D-S.C., "By August 2008 at the latest, U.S. combat troops will be redeployed from Iraq."
Poll of Iraqis
A new poll reflected the stress and hopelessness that are the result of the unrelenting violence and uncertain political situation. The poll, by ABC News, USA Today, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD German TV, found only 18 percent of Iraqis have confidence in U.S. and coalition troops; 86 percent are concerned that someone in their household will be a victim of violence; and 51 percent say violence against American forces is acceptable.
The joint security crackdown by an influx of U.S. and Iraqi forces to Baghdad and the troubled Al Anbar province began Feb. 14.
"Success will take months, not days or weeks" -- in part because less than half of the U.S. troop reinforcements have yet arrived in the capital, Bush said.
"There will be good days, and there will be bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds," he said.
Some positive signs
Still, he reported positive news, some that had been delivered during a briefing on the war with his National Security Council and a later videoconference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from Baghdad.
Bush credited Iraqis with deploying 10 army brigades and nine national-police brigades to the capital, and al-Maliki's Shiite-led government for allowing U.S. troops to go after Shiite militias as well as Sunni insurgents. He said the security push has already uncovered large caches of weapons and destroyed two major car-bomb factories on the outskirts of Baghdad.
He also praised al-Maliki's government for making progress on a law establishing how oil revenue would be shared among the Iraqi people and on a promise of $10 billion in Iraqi money spent on reconstruction.
What he didn't mention was that Iraq missed the Dec. 31 target dates to enact the oil law, as well as laws establishing provincial elections and reversing measures that have excluded many Sunnis from jobs and government positions because they belonged to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. The U.S. is also pushing for constitutional amendments to remove articles that the Sunnis think discriminate in favor of the Shiites and Kurds.
Democrats challenged Bush's strategy.
"By diverting attention from al-Qaeda and stretching our troops to the breaking point, the Iraq war has made America less safe, not more," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "The war can only be won politically and by forcing Iraq's political factions to resolve their differences."
To this end, Democrats are pushing a war-spending bill that includes a troop-withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008. That timeline would speed up if Bush cannot certify that the Iraqi government is meeting its own benchmarks for providing security, allocating the oil revenues and making the constitutional amendments.
The House spending bill has little chance of getting to Bush's desk, where he has promised a veto, because Democrats have a much slimmer majority in the Senate. But the White House has worked aggressively anyway against the House bill, fearing it could create momentum in the Senate and send an unwanted message globally.