- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CLEVELAND — President Bush, beset by decreasing Republican support for the war in Iraq and renewed Democratic efforts to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops, yesterday challenged Congress to wait for a military report in the fall before trying to end the conflict.

“I believe that its in this nations interests to give the commander a chance to fully implement his operations,” Mr. Bush said, speaking at a downtown hotel to a local business group.

Mr. Bush did not reveal any changes to his strategy or thinking on Iraq and did not talk about his hopes for withdrawing troops, despite reports that conversations on the topic are intensifying inside his administration.

Instead, Mr. Bush said, “Congress ought to wait for General Petraeus to come back and give us assessment of the strategy that he’s putting in place before they make any decisions.”

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is scheduled to report back to Congress in September on the results of Mr. Bush’s decision to send about 30,000 more troops to Iraq in the past six months.

“I strongly believe that if we recoil and leave the region with precipitous withdrawals … it’s going to get worse, not better,” Mr. Bush said.

Democrats rebuffed the presidents entreaty and fired the first salvo in what is expected to be a barrage of attempts in the next three weeks, before the congressional summer recess, to end the war.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, allowed the introduction of an amendment to a defense spending bill that would withdraw all but a small number of U.S. troops by April 30.

“The president’s strategy and the surge in particular have delivered few of the promised results,” Mr. Reid said. “Democrats believe we need a new strategy, one that forces the president to change the mission and bring our troops home responsibly.”

Mr. Bush is expected this week to tell Congress that the Iraqi government has not met any of the U.S. benchmarks for progress on nation-building. Senior Republican senators have spoken out against continuing the surge in light of sustained violence in Iraq and lack of political progress by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

“Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, said last month, joining Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, and Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, in voicing public criticism.

Other Republicans have voiced doubts privately to the White House about Mr. Bush’s strategy. The White House, however, is lobbying key Republican senators to wait until September to judge the surges results.

Democrats are criticizing the president’s insistence that the surge be given more time.

“Unless you change the mission, there is no hope … except for us to have a Saigon-type departure out of Iraq,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and a 2008 presidential hopeful.

“This president is pushing us toward a Saigon moment,” he said, referring to the frantic 1975 U.S. evacuation of its presence in South Vietnam and iconic images of people fighting to get into helicopters flying off the U.S. Embassy roof.

Mr. Biden acknowledged that the 17 Republican votes needed for a veto-proof majority on binding legislation in the Senate likely will not materialize immediately.

“My guess is most of them will hold off until September, actually beginning to vote with us,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to keep pushing this. … I still view this as a process.”

On his return to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Mr. Bush boarded a C-17 cargo plane to visit with about 30 wounded U.S. troops returning from Iraq. Mr. Bush spent about 20 minutes with the service members, some of whom were headed to a burn unit in San Antonio and some of whom were wounded so badly that they could not speak, a White House spokesman said.

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