The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday said President Bush could benefit greatly by giving a state of the Iraq war address to the public, outlining progress and problems.
Citing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” in World War II, Sen. John W. Warner said such an address would bring Mr. Bush closer to the people and “dispel some of this concern that understandably our people have about the loss of life and limb, the enormous cost of this war to the American public.”
Although the president regularly talks of Iraq progress in his weekly radio address, it is not considered “prime time.” Since the March 2003 invasion, he has made three prime-time television addresses on the war — a press conference this year and two speeches last year.
The suggestion by Mr. Warner, a Virginia Republican who served in the Navy during the final year of World War II, came during an appearance yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” during which he traded blows with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, over U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
“There’s not a single general … who believes we can keep 150,000 troops in Iraq without extending tours three and four and five times and without further mobilizing the National Guard,” said Mr. Biden, a potential presidential candidate in 2008.
Mr. Warner said “cross-training” units deployed to Iraq could maintain troops levels.
“Artillery men can become infantrymen; artillery men can become policemen,” he said, adding that such techniques were used during World War II.
Dispute about troop levels in Iraq has been the center of debate on Capitol Hill recently, amid criticism from Democratic lawmakers seeking to set dates for a U.S. pullout.
The Pentagon has cited plans to reduce current levels of 160,000 down to about 138,000 after the Dec. 15 election in Iraq and said subsequent decreases could be expected.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, yesterday said a publicized U.S. pullout timeline would show Iraqis that the United States does not desire to permanently occupy their country.
Mr. Feingold, also a potential 2008 presidential candidate, said the focus should be on fighting terrorism.
“Iraq has ended up being a real distraction, actually, a problem,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
A Senate amendment that passed Nov. 15 said Iraqi security forces should be “taking the lead” over security in their country sometime during 2006, but steered clear of a specific timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
Mr. Warner said there are “some 40 Iraqi battalions” fighting alongside U.S. troops in Iraq, and the next six months will be their test.
Others weighing in on the debate yesterday included Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who said Iraq is not specifically interested in a pullout timetable, but that it was likely there would be a decrease of 60,000 U.S. troops by the end of 2006.
“We’ve been discussing condition-based agreements between the Iraqi security, between the Iraqi interim government, or Iraqi transitional government, and the multinational forces,” Mr. al-Rubaie said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Mr. al-Rubaie also said the government has opened an “intensive” investigation of all jails nationwide since the discovery this month of a secret Iraqi detention bunker run by the Ministry of Interior in central Baghdad. He dismissed accusations by Iraq’s former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad as under dictator Saddam Hussein.