The admiral picked by President Bush to oversee his new strategy for Iraq testified yesterday that he does not know much about the plan that the administration says will determine whether the U.S. wins the war.
“I have not gotten into the detail of these plans,” Adm. William J. Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that he has been concentrating on his current job as head of the U.S. Pacific Command.
Adm. Fallon specifically declined to endorse Mr. Bush’s plan, saying he first has to get to the region and assess matters.
The admiral’s lack of knowledge startled some senators.
“I’m surprised that you don’t have that understanding going in, frankly,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and panel chairman. He had asked whether the flow of new troops could be slowed based on battlefield conditions.
The admiral, whose expertise centers on sea power and diplomacy in dealing with China, said he will leave the Iraq battle decisions to Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who leaves for Baghdad this week as the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The admiral appeared before the panel for confirmation hearings on his appointment to lead the U.S. Central Command.
“I do not know the details of how he plans to use” the new troops, Adm. Fallon said. “I’m sure he’s going to have to consult with his generals on the ground once he gets into position and then figure it out.”
As senators kept up their assault on Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy, so did Democrats in the House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, led a delegation to Iraq over the weekend and told reporters yesterday that she saw “no evidence” of military or diplomatic progress in Iraq.
“It has been nearly four years since we went to war in Iraq, and four years later, there is still no end in sight,” she said.
“The escalation instituted by President Bush has been tried before and failed,” said the San Francisco lawmaker who voted against the war in 2002. “Although we heard varying judgments about prospects for success this time, everyone we spoke to said that this was the one last chance and it might not work.”
Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, held hearings yesterday on whether Congress has the constitutional authority to end a war. Mr. Feingold said he will introduce legislation that would give the administration six months to wrap up operations in Iraq and pull troops out.
“We can’t stand idly by and tell ourselves that it’s the president’s job to fix the mess he made,” he said. “It’s our job to fix the mess. And if we don’t do so, we are abdicating our responsibilities.”
Sen. Barack Obama, the first-term Illinois Democrat who is running for president, offered his own legislation yesterday to end the war.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, took issue with Mr. Bush’s past comments that he is the “decider” when it comes to the war in Iraq.
“I would suggest respectfully that he is not the sole decider,” Mr. Specter said. “It is a shared and joint responsibility.”
Adm. Fallon testified that he would view his post at the U.S. Central Command as responsible for regional issues, not just Iraq.
He often mentioned Iran as a threat to the struggling democracy in Iraq. His testimony underscored a scenario in which his main task will be to contain and pressure Iran and its bellicose leaders, leaving the newly confirmed Gen. Petraeus to focus on day-to-day operations in Iraq as the multinational commander.
“I view my responsibilities as much wider than that,” Adm. Fallon said. “It seems to be that there’s an expectation that I’d be working outside the borders of Iraq to try to get the neighborhood, for example, to help us.”
The administration has beefed up naval power in the region, positioning two aircraft carriers instead of the typical one. Officials say the show of force puts pressure on Iran, which is accused of aiding the insurgency in Iraq, and soothes Persian Gulf allies anxious about threats of war by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Bush has acknowledged that the war is not going well. He announced earlier this month a new strategy whose centerpiece is a surge of more than 21,000 troops, principally to quell violence in Baghdad.
Gen. Petraeus is replacing Gen. George Casey, who is slated to be the next Army chief of staff. But Gen. Casey may run into a tough confirmation hearing. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, has accused the military of mismanaging the war.
Yesterday, he leveled a new charge. “Too often administration officials came before this committee and the American people and painted a rosy scenario when it was not there,” Mr. McCain said, without naming names.
“I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around, but time is short,” Adm. Fallon said. “It seems pretty obvious to me that what we have been doing has not been working.”
Adm. Fallon would be replacing Army Gen. John Abizaid, an Arabic speaker who devoted himself to Iraq planning. He acknowledged last year that the U.S. did not have sufficient troops when it invaded Iraq in March 2003.