- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democratic leaders today rejected the call by the top U.S. general in Iraq for a reduction of up to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by next summer, saying it does not go far enough.

“This is unacceptable to me, it’s unacceptable to the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid said the recommendation by Gen. David Petraeus, expected to be embraced tomorrow by President Bush in a speech to the nation, “is neither a drawdown or a change in mission that we need. His plan is just more of the same.”

“I call on the Senate Republicans to not walk lockstep as they have with the president for years in this war. It’s time to change. It’s the president’s war. At this point it also appears clear it’s also the Senate Republicans’ war,” Reid told a Capitol Hill news conference.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the troop buildup Bush announced in January had been intended to give the fledgling Iraqi government breathing room.

But that government remains dysfunctional and “the president is just going to stay the course indefinitely,” Levin said. He said that even Petraeus, in two days of congressional testimony, had acknowledged that the purpose of the military buildup, which the administration has called a “surge,” had not been accomplished.

Reid said that Democrats would offer amendments “to change the course of the war” when the Senate takes up a defense bill next week. He said they were reaching out to Republicans for help — especially those Republicans who had been calling for a change in September.

Bush held out the promise for such a change, but it is not materializing, Reid said.

Reid wasn’t specific about what amendments Democrats would offer, or whether they had the 60 votes needed to overcome GOP stalling efforts and to prevail.

“Al Qaeda is resurgent. We know the Middle East is destabilized and Iraq remains in a state of civil war,” said Reid. “It appears the president has dug in, unwilling to recognize his strategy is putting all the burden on our military. And it’s simply not working.”

Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that stabilizing Iraq would be a lengthy process that won’t end when violence in that country — and U.S. troop strength — is reduced.

“We’re at the beginning of a transition in the Middle East, we’re at the beginning of a long process of dealing with what the president called a long time ago a generational challenge to our security brought on by extremism coming principally out of the Middle East,” Rice said.

Bush was expected to announce that he plans to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq by as many as 30,000 by next summer from the 160,000 there now. Rice said Wednesday the U.S. views the task of stabilizing Iraq as not simply improving security within its borders but “to begin to have American forces in lower numbers turn to other responsibilities.”

Among those, she said, is “the territorial security of Iraq” with respect to its Mideast neighbors, especially Iran.

“Iran is a very troublesome neighbor,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show. “Iran is prepared to fill the vacuum” if the United States leaves Iraq.

Rice’s comments followed two days of testimony from Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador there. The testimony, though, seemed only to harden positions among lawmakers. GOP conservatives said real progress was finally being made and more time was needed, whereas Democrats said the absence of a political deal in Baghdad meant the strategy failed.

In a joint press conference with Crocker today, Petraeus said Iranians appear to be trying to create a like Hezbollah-like organization in Iraq that they could use to gain influence inside the fractured country.

Crocker said he hoped neighbor states in the region will pressure nations like Iran and Syria, which he said have been part of the problem in Iraq rather than part of the solution.

In a 15-minute address from the White House at 9 p.m. EDT tomorrow, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their appearance at two days of hearings in Congress, administration officials told Associated Press. The White House plans to issue a written status report on the troop buildup on Friday, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush’s speech is not yet final.

Also Friday, the president will travel to a Marine base in Quantico, Va., just outside Washington, to talk further about his Iraq policy, the White House announced. Vice President Dick Cheney will do his part, too, speaking on Iraq on Friday at appearances at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., and at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

While mirroring Petraeus’ strategy, Bush will place more conditions on reductions than his general did, insisting that conditions on the ground must warrant cuts and that now-unforeseen events could change the plan.

For their part, Democrats have rallied against the plan. But they find themselves in a box — lacking the votes to pass legislation ordering troops home by spring but tied to a support base that wants nothing less.

“We will continue the fight,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told ABC’s “Good Morning America” today.

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