President Bush plans to endorse the recommendation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and will announce this week a withdrawal of almost 30,000 U.S. forces from Iraq by next summer, according to administration officials.
Gen. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, testified Monday before lawmakers that he favored the reduction in forces as long as decisions about future troop levels were postponed until next summer as well.
The president’s troop reduction, which will be announced in a nationally televised speech at 9 p.m. Thursday, will be a few thousand less than the 30,000 advised by Gen. Petraeus, a White House official told The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Bush met with congressional leaders of both parties today, as Gen. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker completed their second day of joint testimony on Capitol Hill.
The president welcomed the leaders of the Democrat-led Congress to the White House, and said he asked them “to come and share their thoughts about Iraq.”
“I think it’s very important before I make up my mind that I consult with the leaders of the House and the Senate,” Mr. Bush said.
But administration officials said Mr. Bush had already decided to follow his general’s advice.
Angry Democrats walked out of the meeting and denounced Gen. Petraeus’ plan, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling it “a 10-year or more commitment for a long-term occupation of Iraq.”
“This is just an attempt to keep a long-term high level deployment in Iraq, which is not encouraging the Iraqi government to make any changes,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. “The more successful you are militarily, the more expectation there is that there will be some polItical change. The measure is political. It hasn’t happened.”
Mrs. Pelosi said it was “an insult to the intelligence of the American people” to call Gen. Petraeus’ plan for a 30,000 troop reduction a new direction, and said Democrats would continue to push for a full redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he would keep trying to peel off Republicans to obtain a veto-proof majority.
Republican leaders, however, said their party would support the Petraeus plan and continue to uphold Mr. Bush’s veto threats against legislation mandating dramatic withdrawals of troops.
“Gen. Petraeus has given us a way forward,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “I’m optimistic that when all is said and done, his suggestions will be largely the position in the Senate.”
Gen. Petraeus today warned lawmakers that a “precipitous withdrawal” from Iraq would embolden al Qaeda terrorists and the hostile Islamic regime in Iran.
Al Qaeda remains “a very dangerous foe and continues to inflict death and destruction on the Iraqi people,” said Gen. Petraeus during back-to-back hearings with the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.
But senators subjected Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker to intense questioning on whether the war in Iraq plays a significant role in protecting the U.S. from future attacks by Islamic extremists.
“Does this make America safer?” Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, asked Gen. Petraeus about keeping large numbers of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Gen. Petraeus said he was focused on the mission in Iraq, but when prodded a second time by Mr. Warner, he answered, “I don’t know.”
Both Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker, however, said in addition to emboldening enemies, leaving Iraq too quickly would likely lead to “massive human suffering” caused by sectarian fighting.
Mr. Bush is expected to argue in his address that the U.S. should continue to fight terrorists and insurgents in Iraq, which could require several more years of engagement.
The politically costly idea of long-term engagement will be offset by the endorsement of short-term withdrawal.
The White House stayed quiet for most of the past two days, allowing Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker to have center stage as they made the case for a continued presence in Iraq.
“It’s smart,” said Kenneth Pollack, a leading expert on Iraq from the Brookings Institution. “This administration has lost all credibility with the American people on the subject of Iraq.”
“After four years of ‘victory is just around the corner’ and ‘mission accomplished,’ the American people are no longer willing to listen to this White House when it comes to Iraq,” said Mr. Pollack, a former Iraq analyst for the CIA who worked in President Clinton’s National Security Council.
Further, attacks on Gen. Petraeus in the press and in the hearings by liberal anti-war groups MoveOn.org and Code Pink seemed to ennoble the general and the ambassador.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow permitted himself some gloating today, saying that “it can’t have been good for Democrats yesterday to have had the MoveOn ad, or to have had the Code Pink protesters.”