Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday declared the United States had lost the war in Iraq, a conclusion he said he communicated to President Bush at a meeting Wednesday.
“This war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at a Capitol Hill press conference with anti-war state legislators.
Mr. Reid said that both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates agree with his position, though neither has ever declared defeat.
“You have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows,” said Mr. Reid, who left the press conference without fielding follow-up questions.
The White House said no one recalled Mr. Reid saying “the war is lost” at the meeting with the president.
“It’s disturbing that some on Capitol Hill believe they know more than the commanders on the ground,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, adding that Mr. Reid’s assessment was in conflict with senior military advisers conducting the troop surge in Baghdad.
“If this is his true feeling, then it makes one wonder if he has the courage of his convictions and therefore will decide to defund the war,” Mrs. Perino said.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, this week said a little over half of the 25,000-troop surge he requested has arrived in Baghdad.
Democrats have previously deemed the Iraq mission “hopeless,” but few have gone as far as Mr. Reid did in denouncing the war effort.
Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat leading the anti-war push, was criticized severely last year for saying, “Now we’ve lost that war, and now it is time to redeploy” on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Still, Mr. Reid’s remark provoked an outcry from Republican leaders and bolstered Mr. Bush’s criticism that a pullout deadline in both versions of Congress’ $100 billion emergency war funding bill is a declaration of surrender and call for retreat.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner called on Mr. Reid to retract the statement.
“He is telling our enemies they have won,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “While Mr. Reid may be willing to throw in the towel and declare this a lost cause, I am certain that American troops are not. … Mr. Reid’s comments are demoralizing to our troops, and just plain wrong.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, defended Mr. Reid against criticism that he was advocating surrender.
“Who are we surrendering to?” he said. “This is an unconventional war and it has to be dealt with in unconventional ways. … What is failure is this bankrupt policy, this ineffective no-win policy of the administration?”
But Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, chairman of the Republican Conference, called Mr. Reid’s remark “irresponsible.”
“Undercutting morale by making insensitive statements like this only further undermines our troops’ mission,” he said. “Congressional Democrats cannot be taken seriously when they proclaim support for the troops even as they delay passage of an emergency troop funding bill and declare the troops’ mission a failure.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he could not imagine how troops in Iraq would react to Mr. Reid’s pronouncement.
“If the war is already lost, if it is already time to declare defeat, then why wait another year to do it? Why not simply vote against funding now?” the Kentucky Republican said. “Why would anyone ask American soldiers to stick it out for another year if they think the battle is already over?”
Mr. Reid has advocated cutting off war funding if Mr. Bush follows through on his threat to veto a timetable to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq, which Congress attached to bills for $100 billion in emergency war funding.
Only a handful of staunch war opponents would support pulling the plug on funds for troops in combat.
Later yesterday, Mr. Reid sought to temper his comment in a speech on the Senate floor.
“As long as we follow the president’s path in Iraq, the war is lost,” he said. “But there is still a chance to change course and we must change course.
“No one wants us to succeed in the Middle East more than I do.”
Congressional leaders discussed war funding with the president on Wednesday, but neither side softened its stance on a pullout deadline.
The standoff threatens to stall war funds, even as the Pentagon begins raiding other military accounts to pay for the war until June.
The Senate bill passed last month calls for most troops to leave Iraq by March 31, 2008, while the House legislation sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline. Neither bill passed with a veto-proof majority.
Both bills contain about $20 billion in nonmilitary spending, including pork-barrel projects that lured support from some skeptical lawmakers, bringing the Senate bill to $123 billion and the House version to $124 billion.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have suggested replacing pullout deadlines with benchmarks for progress in Iraq. But the Democratic leadership said it will keep pushing for an exit date, even if Mr. Bush vetoes the pending legislation.
President Bush yesterday traveled to Tipp City, Ohio, which is Mr. Boehner’s home district, to again call for swift congressional action on war funding.
“Congress should not have artificial timetables for withdrawal in a funding statement,” the president said. “It sends a signal to a dangerous part of the world that it’s just a matter of time things will happen.”