The White House is rethinking
its diplomatic options in Iraq, but won't reconsider its military strategy
before an assessment from war commanders is presented in September, U.S.
officials said Tuesday.
A U.S. Army soldier escorts a
suspected al-Qaida member in Baqouba, Iraq, Sunday, July 8, 2007. Some 33
suspects were arrested in a joint U.S. and Iraqi overnight raid Sunday.
President Bush's top war advisers, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute and Stephen Hadley,
went to Capitol Hill to assure Republican supporters that a precipitate pullout
of troops won't happen. Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi, Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, Jon Kyl of Arizona and others met with the two
advisers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office off the Senate floor.
Graham said members were told that Bush would back them in fiercely opposing
legislation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would order troop withdrawals to
start in 120 days.
Bush himself said Tuesday he had no intention of succumbing to political
pressure. During a visit to Parma, Ohio on Tuesday, he reiterated that troop
levels in Iraq "will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by
political figures in Washington, D.C."
"I fully understand that this is a difficult war. It's hard on the American
people but I will once again explain the consequences of failure," he said.
Graham told reporters the White House is looking at new ways to hasten
progress in two primary areas: destroying al-Qaida in Iraq and forcing the
U.S.-backed government in Baghdad to make political progress.
"I think you're going to find a united front at the White House and to give
Gen. (David) Petraeus the time he needs to do nothing to undercut the surge" of
troops, Graham said.
A key progress report being briefed to members Thursday will say the Iraqi
government has not met any of its targets for reform but has made some progress
in about more than a half-dozen areas, including tamping down violence in Anbar
Democrats said the only way Baghdad and its neighbors would take more
responsibility in Iraq would be if the U.S. starts to pull out.
Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., want legislation that would order
Bush to begin pulling out troops in four months and end combat by April 30,
2008. The measure would allow for some troops to remain to conduct
counterterrorism, train the Iraqi security forces and protect U.S.
"There is much too little pressure on Iraqi leaders to do what they have to
do," said Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
White House spokesman Tony Snow earlier Tuesday downplayed the significance
of the report coming later in the week, calling it only "a look at the starting
line" of the U.S. troop surge.
Levin's proposal, offered as an amendment to a $649 billion defense policy
bill, is expected to fail because Republicans say they still oppose setting
But in a sign that GOP frustration with the war is growing, Sen. Gordon
Smith, R-Ore., said he would co-sponsor Levin's measure and Olympia Snowe,
R-Maine, said she was considering switching her position and backing the
measure. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was considered another likely supporter.
Sen. Susan Collins, Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and other moderates said they were
considering an alternative proposal that would demand an end to combat and allow
U.S. troops to conduct only a narrow set of missions. The measure would not
identify a date.
"What many of us are looking for is a new strategy that would not be a
precipitous pullout with all of the problems that would cause, but rather a plan
to exit over the next year," said Collins, R-Maine.
Sen. John McCain, upon his return from Iraq, defended Bush's build up,
contending reinforcements had only just recently been put in place.
"I believe that our military in cooperation with our Iraqi security forces
are making progress in a number of areas," he said, noting specifically a
dramatic drop in attacks in Ramadi in the western Anbar province.
Reed of Rhode Island, who also visited Iraq last week, said that Petraeus,
the top commander in Iraq, told him the limits of U.S. military resources will
factor into his recommendation on what to do next. "Come next spring, the
ability to generate 160,000 soldiers and Marines in country virtually comes to
an end," said Reed.