- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2007

Democrats, including the party’s conservative “Blue Dogs,” say it will take “monumental” improvement in Iraq — not the current blips of success — to sway them from pushing for a U.S. troop withdrawal after a September progress report.

“The military victories are just episodic,” said Rep. Jane Harman, a hawkish California Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee.

“It is doubtful that there will be a silver bullet, or even a brass bullet, in this report that will turn this thing around.”

Rep. Charlie Wilson, a freshman Democrat from a conservative blue-collar Ohio district, said he “would definitely need monumental proof, not just an isolated improvement.”

The remarks echo the opinion of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who aides say is “not willing to concede there are positive things to point to” in Iraq, despite recent upbeat assessments from Pentagon officials, House members who toured Iraq and even from a liberal Washington think tank.

The Democrats’ antiwar base also will not budge, regardless of what is in the Sept. 15 report from Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq.

“No matter what the Petraeus report says we will continue to call for the speedy and safe withdrawal of all U.S. troops,” said Medea Benjamin, spokeswoman for the feminist antiwar group Code Pink.

The Democrat-led Congress continued to hammer the war issue yesterday, with a near party-line 229-194 House vote approving a bill that would limit time of troop deployments.

Supporters said it would ensure troop readiness, requiring troops’ time at home equal to time in combat.

“Our troops and their families are tired. They are being stressed by the continued and extended deployments,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

“It is time for Congress to take a stand on behalf of our families and say in a clear, unequivocal voice that it is time that service members have a minimum dwell time between deployments,” he said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, called the bill a “backhanded attempt to force an American withdrawal from Iraq.”

A similar measure by Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, failed in the Senate last month.

Though Iraq remains mired in violence and bloodshed, recent military gains include more security throughout Baghdad, reduced sectarian violence, al Qaeda losing ground in Sunni areas and the year’s lowest U.S. casualty count in July.

“Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, two liberal Brookings Institution scholars who previously criticized the war strategy, in an op-ed article Monday in the New York Times.

“The surge cannot go on forever,” they wrote. “But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.”

But Democrats predict bad news in the report — particularly the failure of the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks for political reconciliation in the country — will persuade Republicans to split from President Bush and back a pullout plan.

They do concede that signs of progress in the report would likely fracture the caucus and derail pullout legislation.

“It would be a problem for us,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told The Washington Post this week.

About 69 percent of voters disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war and 66 percent say the war is going badly, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll.

After repeatedly failing to force Mr. Bush to accept a troop-withdrawal timetable because they could not muster a veto-proof majority, Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, set their sights on the September report.

The administration undertook a public-relations offensive to tout progress in Iraq and simultaneously lower Capitol Hill lawmakers’ expectations for the September report.

Vice President Dick Cheney is the highest-ranking administration official to deliver the message, saying Tuesday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that the report likely will show “significant progress.”

“The reports I’m hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that the Petraeus plan is in fact producing results,” he said.

In the Senate yesterday, a group of Democrats — including presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — introduced a bill that would force the Pentagon to draft a pullout plan.

Mrs. Clinton has squabbled with the Pentagon after a Defense Department official said her request for a briefing on troop-withdrawal plans, which were publicized by her campaign, “reinforces enemy propaganda.”

She said the comment, made in a letter to her office by Undersecretary Eric S. Edelman, amounted to “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.”

Pentagon officials complied with her request yesterday and provided a classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Mrs. Clinton is a member.

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