Bush nominee worries Iraq can’t do more

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The general picked by President Bush to be his war adviser said yesterday he has serious concerns about the Iraqi government’s ability to take control of its country, no matter how much pressure is applied by the United States.

“The question in my mind is not to what extent can we force them … to a particular outcome, but rather to what degree do they actually have the capacity themselves to produce that outcome,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And if the Iraqis are “pressed too hard, will we, in turn, end up with an outcome that isn’t really worth the paper it’s written on?” he added.

Gen. Lute’s grim words cast fresh doubt on prospects of an easy U.S. withdrawal at a time Americans are increasingly impatient. In an AP-Ipsos poll released yesterday, just 28 percent said they are satisfied with Mr. Bush’s handling of the war — numbers that are affecting Republicans as well as Democrats on Capitol Hill.

More than 3,500 U.S. troops have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

“Wake up,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, in response to Gen. Lute’s suggestion that Americans should be mindful that democracy in Baghdad in still in an embryonic stage. “We’re paying a heavy price for them to establish this government.”

Democrats, including committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, say U.S. troops should begin to pull out of Iraq to put pressure on the Iraqis to take more responsibility and make political agreements that could help calm sectarian violence.

“I think they lack will, not capacity,” said Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat.

However, he added, if Baghdad does lack the ability to take control of its country, then Mr. Bush’s decision to send thousands more troops into Baghdad and Anbar province is useless.

“How do you then justify a surge [in U.S. forces] whose purpose is to give breathing space to a government that, by your testimony, you doubt has the capacity to make the political reconciliation compromises?” Mr. Levin asked.

Gen. Lute responded: “I am concerned about the capacity of this government. But I haven’t passed final judgment on them.”

Last month, Mr. Bush signed war-spending legislation that — for the first time in the four-year war — conditioned U.S. aid for the Iraqis on Baghdad’s ability to meet certain milestones. Mr. Bush can waive the restriction if he wants.

Mr. Bush last month nominated Gen. Lute to become deputy national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, a newly created position intended to reach across agency bureaucracies and better execute the president’s policy on the two wars.

Gen. Lute said he will work closely with National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, who will have a broader portfolio, as well as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.

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