- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

President Bush said yesterday that it was “a positive step” for the Senate to defeat a Democrat-led effort to establish a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

“The Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, rejected an amendment that would have taken our troops out of Iraq before the mission was complete,” Mr. Bush said during a press conference in Kyoto with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. “To me, that was a positive step by the United States Senate.”

Mr. Bush rejected a reporter’s suggestion that he was embarrassed by the Senate’s subsequent approval of a watered-down measure that requires the White House to give lawmakers regular progress reports on Iraq.

“That’s to be expected,” the president said of the measure, an amendment to the Senate version of a defense spending bill. “They expect us to keep them abreast of a plan that is going to work.”

He added that he viewed the measure as “consistent with our strategy, and look forward to continue to work with the Congress.”

The Senate on Tuesday approved 79-19 the Republican amendment calling for regular updates on Iraq, but rejected 58-40 a Democratic amendment demanding a timetable for a U.S. troop pullout. The overall defense bill passed 98-0, but it must be reconciled with a House bill that doesn’t have either of the amendments.

Senate Democrats yesterday continued demanding “benchmarks” for withdrawal from Iraq, with Sen. Barbara Boxer going so far as to promise that those benchmarks would not be used against the president.

“We’re asking the administration to say to us how long will it take to train the number of Iraqi troops that we need. Tell us how long that will be,” the California Democrat told Fox News Channel yesterday. “And, of course, we understand if something slips, we’re not going to hold you to it.”

Mrs. Boxer also seemed to suggest that Iraqis were not doing enough to defend themselves against terrorist attacks, and hinted that the fledgling democracy might do more if faced with the prospect of an imminent U.S. pullout.

“We need to send a message to the Iraqi people,” she said. “If they don’t want freedom, if they don’t want liberty, if they don’t want to step up to the plate and defend their country — as much as we’re willing to sacrifice for them for those things — it’s a real problem. And they need to know that.”

Democratic activists yesterday welcomed the Tuesday votes as the first legislative efforts to force Republicans in Congress to address eventual troop withdrawal within the framework of achieving specific security goals.

The liberal Web site DailyKos.com bemoaned the Senate’s defeat of the Democratic amendment to require “estimated dates for the phased redeployment” of U.S. troops from Iraq. Still, the Web site added, there was some “good news — Republicans are finally starting to come around on Iraq, making noise about applying some accountability to the war effort.”

But Michael O’Hanlon, a Democratic national security adviser at the Brookings Institution, said, “The requirement of a complete withdrawal by a near-term date-certain is a major mistake.”

“The bill that was originally introduced by the Democrats would run too high a risk of conceding defeat at some future time,” he said.

Mr. O’Hanlon said what he “would have done was to mandate a three-fourths troop reduction by 2007.”

“But Democrats are not allowing us to have this debate because they want a more extreme option, which is a complete withdrawal,” he said, adding, “I don’t think that’s realistic.”

Another military analyst at Brookings, Ivo H. Daalder, said that despite the Democratic amendment’s defeat, the Republican Senate adopted significant parts of it and did so to send signals to the White House that it wants clearer answers to the questions of “what are we doing there, how are we doing, and when are we done.”

• Donald Lambro contributed to this report.

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