The two top Senate Democrats on foreign policy yesterday said they will introduce a resolution in January calling for troops to start being withdrawn from Iraq by this summer, a move that Sen. John McCain said would put the U.S. in the worst of both worlds.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat in line to lead the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his party's election victory last week vindicates calls for a change of strategy in Iraq and said withdrawals would need to start this year, despite White House opposition to any timetables, a stance it also reiterated on yesterday's political shows.
"The people spoke dramatically, overwhelmingly, resoundingly, to change the course in Iraq," he said during an appearance on ABC's "This Week." The Senate's "first order of business is to change the direction of Iraq policy."
"We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months, to begin that redeployment," he said. "We have to tell Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over."
On the other hand, Mr. McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq would need to be increased to achieve victory and said he would favor a total withdrawal if that didn't happen.
"I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops," he said.
Moderator Tim Russert said: "It sounds as if McCain is saying, 'Either send more troops in, secure the country and win, or make the decision and get out.' "
"I think that that's pretty much my position," said the Arizona Republican, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008. "Maybe it's more nuanced than that."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., who appeared on the same ABC segment as Mr. Levin, said he backed the Michigander's resolution and elaborated on some of its other details.
It also would call for "a political settlement in Iraq, put pressure on the Iraqis to insist upon a means to distribute the oil equitably, to make sure that there's some form of federalism and to deal with the militias, and call for an international conference," said the Delaware Democrat who is expected to take the reins at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Besides Mr. Levin and Mr. Biden, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the incoming majority leader, also called for a redeployment of troops from Iraq, which he said "should start within the next few months," although he said the withdrawal should be phased.
"We need to have a redeployment in Iraq. What does that mean? Pull everybody out now? Of course not," Mr. Reid said during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."
White House officials said yesterday that President Bush opposes a specific timetable for withdrawal and partitioning of Iraq, but that he is willing to reconsider proposals on conducting the war.
"I don't think so. And I think it would be a very bad idea," White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten said when asked on CBS' "Face the Nation" whether his boss would support a timetable, although he added that "nobody is happy with what our situation in Iraq is now."
Still, Mr. Bolten told ABC's "This Week" that "the president's open to fresh ideas here."
"The president obviously wants to take a whole fresh look at what we're doing in Iraq," he said on CBS.
Mr. Bush will meet today with members of a commission, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, that Congress appointed to make recommendations about U.S. policy in Iraq.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett also denied speculation that the administration, based on reports about the Baker-Hamilton panel, is considering a partitioning of Iraq into regions based on ethic or religious makeup.
"I think many observers and experts watching the political process in Iraq would say that that would be a mistake to go that route," he said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." "Most importantly, the sovereign government of Iraq believes that that would be the wrong way to go. To partition the country would only increase sectarian violence and strife, not call for reconciliation."
Mr. McCain added that he opposes a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"I believe that a withdrawal, or a date for withdrawal, will lead to chaos in the region, and most military experts think the same thing," he said.
However, Mr. Levin and Mr. Biden both said they would not support cutting off funds for the war, a move some liberals have demanded but which Rep. Nancy Pelosi, likely the next speaker of the House, ruled out the day after the election.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's absolutely off the table," Mr. Biden agreed.