White House holds firm on Iraq strategy
WASHINGTON ” The White House is holding firm on its Iraq strategy in the face of yet another effort to curb the mission, proposed this time by moderate Republicans the Bush administration can ill afford to lose.
President Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Sunday the administration’s “very orderly process” for reviewing its Iraq plans should be allowed to play out despite a hurry-up initiative from two respected GOP senators.
Hadley’s reply was “No” when asked whether Bush could live with the proposal by Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana. They want to give the president until mid-October to submit a plan to restrict the use of U.S. troops in Iraq to fighting terrorists and securing borders and U.S. interests.
Bush is sticking to his plan to take stock of progress in Iraq in September and decide on a course of action from there, without conditions, his aide said.
Hadley made the rounds of morning television talk shows to praise the initiative of the senators ” and turn thumbs down on it.
“They’ve done a useful service in indicating the kinds of things that we should be thinking about,” Hadley said. “But the time to begin that process is September.
“And the opening shot really ought to be to hear from the commanders on the ground who can make an assessment of where we are.”
The Senate’s Democratic leadership also is cool to the Warner-Lugar proposal, but for different reasons. Democrats favor tougher steps to restrict Bush’s options, but need more Republicans to peel away from Bush before they can prevail.
The two GOP senators said nothing in their proposal would bind Bush to a withdrawal timetable or throw the September review off track. But it does suggest patience is running thin with Bush’s course of action even among some Republicans who have been behind him.
“The president will have to make some changes and I’m confident the president will do so,” Warner said.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, a presidential contender, predicted enough Republicans would defect from the White House line on Iraq in the months ahead to enable the Democratic majority to overcome delaying tactics in the Senate and ultimately override any Bush veto.
But GOP unity, while strained, has not broken. Democrats are coordinating a week of maneuvering ahead that will call to account the small but growing number of wavering Republicans.
One Democratic measure last week, which sought to influence troop deployments, fell four votes short of the 60 needed to advance.
Hadley said under questioning that the administration is still pressing Iraqi lawmakers to cancel their monthlong vacation in August. The White House, however, seems resigned to seeing the break go forward, and he joined other Bush aides in playing down its significance.
Hadley noted Iraqi lawmakers plan to work six days a week until the end of July and he said work will continue outside the parliament through August on sectarian reconciliation and power-sharing.
The parliament shortened its usual two-month break under pressure but that has not appeased critics. They say Iraqi political leaders should not take a vacation that U.S. troops fighting in the blistering heat of summer do not get.
Congress also plans to take a month off, starting Aug. 3.
Lugar and Warner said their proposal asks that Bush start thinking now about different options and seek to boost diplomacy. They cited an over-stretched military and growing terrorist threats around the world.
But that does not mean an abandonment of a U.S. presence in Iraq either, they said.
“This nation of ours has got to remain in that area,” Warner said, pointing to the United States’ “vital security interests” involving Middle East oil and relations with Israel.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responded to the White House progress report by saying Iraqi forces are capable of securing the country and U.S. troops can leave “any time they want.”
His foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, was quick to add Sunday that the prime minister was not suggesting a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. “Yes, the Iraqi security forces, the military, have grown up, I think,” he said. “They are assuming leadership positions.
“They are taking the lead in many of the ongoing battles against al-Qaida, against the terrorists and the insurgents.
But he added: “I think the presence of these forces still will be needed. The situation is volatile. It is not stable.”
Hadley appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” “Fox News Sunday,” CBS’ “Face the Nation” and CNN’s “Late Edition.” Warner spoke on ABC, while Zebari and Biden were on CNN.