White House re­jects Demo­crat pro­pos­als for Iraq pull­out

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

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.

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