White House rejects Democrat proposals for Iraq pullout
The White House on Nov. 13 rejected Democrats’ proposals for a phasedwithdrawalofU.S.troopsfrom Iraq as lacking specifics or “meat on the bones,” as President Bush met with the Iraq Study Group, which is seeking to advise the administration on ways to realign Iraq policy.
Democrats have claimed a man- dateaftertheNov.7electionstoforce a change in Iraq policy, and key Senate Democrats on Nov. 13 called for thefirsttroopstobewithdrawnwithin sixmonthsasasignaltoIraqisthatthe United States is not their “security blanket.”
“That’s the message that came through so clearly and powerfully lastTuesdayfromtheAmericanpeople. Most Democrats share the view that we should pressure the White House to commence the phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq in four to six months,” said Sen. Carl LevinofMichigan,whoisinlinetobecome the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
HiscallwasechoedbySen.Harry Reid,NevadaDemocrat,whoislikely tobecometheSenatemajorityleader whenDemocratsassumecontrolnext year. Meanwhile, House Democrats’ leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, has made Iraq the central issue in the race for House Democrats’ No. 2 position by endorsing Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania,basedonhisopposition to the war.
Facedwiththeelectionresultsand emboldenedDemocrats,Mr.Bushis trying to keep control of the debate while still being open to suggestions from the soon-to-be new majority party on Capitol Hill.
“What’sinterestingis,isthatthey’re beginning to understand that with victory comes responsibilities. And I’m looking forward to working with the Democrats to achieve common objectives,” the president told reporters after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
WhiteHousepresssecretaryTony Snow said that Democrats have not settled on a proposal and that Mr. Levin’s idea isn’t even fleshed out enough to respond.
“Democratsnowhavetoputmeat on the bones,” he said.
TheWhiteHousehasturnedtothe Iraq Study Group, boosting the congressionallymandatedpanel’sprofile inthepastweekbothinapostelection pressconferenceandagainwithaday full of meetings between the group’s members and administration officials. Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and White House ChiefofStaffJoshuaB.Boltenmeton Nov.13withthegroup,headedbyformer Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana for 75 minutes.
The group spent the day at the White House, also meeting with the secretaries of defense and state, the national intelligence and CIA directors, top generals and the U.S. ambassadortoIraq.OnNov.14,itsmembers met with Democrats such as former National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. HolbrookeandformerSecretaryofState Warren Christopher.
Expectations for the group are growing,andthoseonbothsidesofthe political divide say it could be a chancefortheWhiteHousetoachieve a face-saving way forward in Iraq.
The group said it wants to have a report by the end of the year.
But Mr. Snow said the study group is just one of the voices Mr. Bush will listen to, and said Mr. Bushisresponsibleformakingfinal decisions. He also cautioned against putting too much weight on the group’s meetings with administration officials, saying that it was an exchangeofinformationaboutwhat is going on in Iraq and that the group was not pitching suggestions.
“Thereseemstobethisnotionthat somehow this is like a board game, whereyoujustsortofneatlysweepall the pieces off, and then it’s all done,” he said.
Still, Mr. Bush’s tone has already changedtothepointwhereheisnow drawing fewer lines and sounding more welcoming to outside ideas.
Asked whether he would accept recommendations from the group thatincludedtimetables,Mr.Bushdid not rule it out, instead saying he will not “prejudge” the report. At a press conference one week earlier, he announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and nominatedRobertM.Gates,whountil Nov. 10 was a member of the study group, as a replacement.
Mr. Levin said the change in attitude was apparent.
“I didn’t hear anything about cutting and running,” he said. “I didn’t hearanythingaboutifyouareproposing that we begin a phased redeploymentinfourtosixmonths,thatsomehow or other that will help the terrorists.”
Charles Hurt contributed to this article.