- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005

Senate Democratic leaders labeled President Bush’s latest Iraq speech yesterday as filled with “vague generalities,” but distanced themselves from their party chairman’s declaration that thinking of victory is “just plain wrong.”

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island released a report prepared by the staff of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that rebutted Mr. Bush’s chronicle of successes in Iraq. Mr. Reed called the speech “another missed opportunity to be candid with the American public. The American people were eager to hear the president’s plan for the economic reconstruction of Iraq. Instead, we again heard vague generalities.”

When the press conference topic turned to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s statement on Monday that, “The idea that we’re going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong,” Mr. Reed, a West Point graduate, joined a number of Democrats who have sharply disagreed.

“I think we do think we can succeed,” Mr. Reed said. “The question is, we need a plan to do that. And that obligation is the president’s.”

Although the Senate Democratic report was meant to highlight criticism of Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq, where more than 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed since March 2003, it also showcased a widening split among party members on how to address the war.

Mr. Reed not only disagreed with his party chairman, he also broke from a proposal by Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat. Mr. Murtha wants the administration to declare victory in ousting dictator Saddam Hussein and bring all troops home. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, endorsed the quick pullout.

Mr. Reed said, “I just think at this juncture, to come out on a fixed deadline could create problems that we might not even anticipate at this moment.”

He endorsed a passed Senate resolution that calls for 2006 to be a year of rapid transition in Iraq, in which Iraqi forces take up more counterinsurgency missions.

Republicans have pounced on Mr. Dean’s no-victory stance and Mr. Murtha’s leave-now proposal as representing a “cut-and-run” policy that can only encourage Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists.

With Democrats gearing up to make the Iraq war a major theme in 2006 elections, when they will try to regain control of Congress, Mr. Reed was asked whether his party was sending a mixed message to voters.

“I think the American public are the one who’s confused and their confusion comes from the administration’s policy,” Mr. Reed said. Asked whether Mr. Bush had done anything right since Saddam’s ouster, he said, “Frankly, it has been, I think, a succession of major miscues.”

Mr. Murtha provided the House Democrats’ reaction to Mr. Bush’s speech. He again accused the president of misleading the American people about why the United States went to war. And he brushed aside reporters’ questions about a Democratic caucus yesterday at which members could not agree on a unified Iraq policy.

“Let me tell you, there’s only two plans,” Mr. Murtha said. “One plan is the president’s plan. And that’s stay the course and hope. And there’s a plan that I’m proposing, which calls for immediate redeployment.”

The Senate Democratic special report on Iraq did not lay out a strategy, but instead criticized the administration’s reconstruction plan.

“The vast majority of these reconstruction funds either have not been spent, have been used for other activities such as security, or have been squandered to waste, fraud and abuse,” the report said.

A spokesman for the special inspector general for Iraq has said investigators have found little fraud in the spending of U.S. taxpayer funds of nearly $30 billion.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, criticized the Democrats for not producing their own strategy.

“While the president continues to highlight the successes of our troops, and the plan for victory in Iraq, his opponents in the Congress have yet to provide a plan of their own,” he said.

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