- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

A senior Democratic adviser said yesterday he is disappointed and dismayed by the efforts of House and Senate Democrats to change administration policies in Iraq, predicting they would lead to further division and stalemate in Congress on the war.

“If you stand back, the whole debate has been pretty frustrating. The bigger problem is that [Democratic leaders’] proposals are not going anywhere, such as some revised authority for the war,” said Leon Panetta, a key Democratic member of the Iraq Study Group whose proposals to stabilize Iraq were largely dismissed by President Bush.

“But those efforts are doomed. Either they are going to be blocked in Congress or vetoed by the president, or both. The end result is that it will make us more divided and impotent on war policy,” President Clinton’s former White House chief of staff said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Panetta’s blunt complaints about how his party has bungled the war debate underscores a partywide discomfort among many Democrats that their leaders have failed to craft a politically viable compromise that can draw some bipartisan support.

Instead of recent Democratic leadership proposals that would set strict requirements for troop readiness training and deployment, Mr. Panetta wants his party to set performance benchmarks for the Iraqi government, as suggested by the study group.

“The issue shouldn’t be about the troops or fighting over what we do there. The issue ought to be over what the Iraqis do. That’s where we ought to be focusing our pressure by saying with one voice to the Iraqis, this is what you ought to accomplish. They said they would implement a whole series of political reforms and have yet to do that,” he said.

“Why can’t they come up with a proposal to put more pressure on the Iraqis to hold them to these benchmarks,” he said.

But other Democratic advisers aren’t willing to give up on the possibility that Mr. Bush’s troop surge may be able to reduce the violence in Baghdad and stabilize the country. They think the Democrats should give the administration six months before attempting to impose funding cuts or other sanctions against the war.

“A lot of [the Democrats’] efforts have been pointless,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution who advises Democrats on national security issues.

“So I think, rather than monkeying around [with anti-war legislation], they should wait until the fall and basically say, whether you like Bush’s handling of the war or not, at least recognize it is reasonable that it could work and give it six more months,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

That view, though, appears to have little support among Democrats in Congress who have been trying to come up with legislation that can unite anti-war liberals who want to force a pullout and more moderate members who want other alternatives.

Despite the Democrats’ midterm election victory, largely because of growing opposition to the war, Mr. O’Hanlon said. “I don’t think the American public endorsed a Democratic alternative on Iraq. They became frustrated with Bush on his strategy and wanted that strategy challenged.”

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