- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Senate Democrats yesterday accused Republicans of using a “Karl Rove playbook” to make the minority party seem weak on defense and to defeat a Democratic plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

They called Senate Republicans a “rubber stamp” for the White House.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan called Republicans hypocritical for opposing his “phased redeployment” plan because top military officials have announced there is likely to be some troop withdrawal this year.

Republicans “tried and failed” to put the Democrats on the defensive during last week’s heated debate, said Mr. Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

“The public wants a debate on Iraq,” he said. “The Republicans looked like they are rubber-stamping whatever the White House wants and using a play out of the campaign playbook of Karl Rove to attack your opponents as being weak on defense instead of talking about policy pros and cons.”

Mr. Levin and Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, last week sponsored a nonbinding resolution that called for starting a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq by Dec. 31. It was rejected Thursday on a nearly party-line vote of 60-39, with Republicans accusing Democrats of trying to “surrender” or “cut-and-run” in Iraq.

On the same day, the Senate voted 86-13 to reject a separate proposal to withdraw combat troops by July 2007.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said last week that more Iraqi forces are prepared to take the lead, showing “great progress.”

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to continue to take reductions over the course of this year,” he said shortly after the Senate votes, adding that the first U.S. troop reductions in Iraq could begin in September.

“Within two hours [of Thursdays votes,] our commander on the ground is saying he still believes fairly substantial reductions can take place over the course of this year,” Mr. Levin said, adding that Democrats are “very much in sync with General Casey.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said yesterday that he “wholeheartedly disagrees.” Mr. Frist said Gen. Casey is qualified to craft plans for troop withdrawals, but senators are not.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Gen. Casey has offered several options and warned reporters against focusing on the withdrawal plan. “Certainly that’s under consideration,” Mr. Snow said.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner said those who support “prematurely withdrawing” troops clearly were defeated in the Senate and in the House earlier this month.

When asked about Gen. Casey’s plan, the Ohio Republican said the commander and President Bush should make the decision based on conditions on the ground.

“It should not be left to the Congress to set some arbitrary timetable for the draw-down of the troops,” Mr. Boehner said. “The [generals] are the people on the ground. They’re there, charged with making those decisions. And they will make those decisions, not us.”

“We were not calling for some arbitrary deadline; we were asking the president to initiate withdrawal of forces this year,” Mr. Reed said. “Frankly, that’s what General Casey suggested rather strongly.”

Democratic leaders will hold a press conference today on Iraq policy, during which several Democratic senators “will call on Bush Republicans to put aside their failed policies and join Democrats, Gen. Casey and the Iraqis in working to change course in Iraq,” according to an announcement.

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