WASHINGTON - US House Democratic leaders are developing an anti-war proposal
that wouldn't cut off money for US troops in Iraq but would require President
Bush to acknowledge problems with an overburdened military.
An Iraqi army soldier directs traffic at a vehicle checkpoint
in central Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007. [AP]
The plan could draw bipartisan support but is expected to be a tough sell to
members who say they don't think it goes far enough to assuage voters angered by
the four-year conflict.
Bush "hasn't to date done anything we've asked him to do, so why we would
think he would do anything in the future is beyond me," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey,
D-Calif., one of a group of liberal Democrats pushing for an immediate end to
Democratic protests to the war grew louder in January after they took control
of Congress and Bush announced he planned to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
Earlier this month, House Democrats pushed through a nonbinding resolution
opposing the buildup.
Since then, Democrats have been trying to decide what to do next. Some
worried that a plan by Rep. John Murtha to restrict funding for the war would go
too far. Murtha, D-Pa., is extending his support to the revised proposal.
The tactic is more likely to embarrass Bush politically than force his hand
on the war. He would have to sign repeated waivers for units and report to
Congress those units with equipment shortfalls and other problems.
In the Senate, a group of senior Democrats wants to repeal the 2002 measure
authorizing the war and write a new resolution restricting the mission and
ordering troop withdrawals to begin by this summer. But Majority Leader Harry
Reid , D-Nev., said Iraq would have to wait until the Senate finishes work to
improve homeland security.
"That would mean we would hold off the Iraq legislation for a matter of days,
not weeks," he said.
The House Democratic proposal brought a sharp response from Republicans on
Rep. Adam Putnam , R-Fla., called the plan a "fig leaf" to distract the
public from what he said was Democrats' ultimate goal of cutting off funds for
troops in combat.
"We support full funding for our troops who are in harms way - without
strings attached," said Putnam, R-Fla., after emerging from a closed-door
As Democrats met behind closed doors to discuss their options Tuesday,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration would talk to
leaders from Iran and Syria on stabilizing Iraq.
Rice announced US support for the Iraq meeting, to be held in Baghdad next
month, at a Senate hearing in which Democrats pressed her and Defense Secretary
Robert Gates to explain what progress is being made in the Baghdad security
crackdown and how soon US troops will be coming home.
The decision to engage Iran and Syria on the war in Iraq is a major departure
for US policy. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group in December recommended US
dialogue with Iran and Syria, but until now the administration has resisted that
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Republican co-chairman of the
panel, welcomed the shift in a speech Tuesday night. But he went further, urging
the administration to include Syria in Mideast peacemaking with Israel and the
Baker and his Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, are
expected this spring to participate in a new study on constitutional war powers.
Baker will co-chair the independent panel along with Warren Christopher, who was
President Clinton's secretary of State.
Dennis Ross, a former US Middle East negotiator, noted that Rice and other
officials had taken pains to stress that the talks were an Iraqi initiative,
which he said the administration might be using as cover to downplay suggestions
of a major policy shift.
"This is a way for the administration to have discussions under a different
umbrella but in a way in which they can say that they are not changing course,"
said Ross, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy.
The administration said its decision to take part in the Iraq conference did
not represent a change of heart, although the White House has accused both Iran
and Syria of deadly meddling in the war.
"We've always been inclined to participate in an Iraqi-led conference," White
House counselor Dan Bartlett said.