Pelosi, Reid Urge Bush To Begin Iraq Pullout
President Considering Three 'Surge' Options
Saturday, January 6, 2007; Page A01
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid declared yesterday that "it is time to bring the war to a close" and warned President Bush that sending more U.S. troops to Iraq would be unacceptable to the Democratic majorities that have just taken over Congress.
Directly challenging Bush's wartime leadership on their second day in charge on Capitol Hill, Democrats Pelosi (Calif.) and Reid (Nev.) sent Bush a letter suggesting that, instead of starting a short-term escalation, he begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces in the next four to six months. The mission of remaining troops, they said, should be shifted away from combat toward more training, logistics and counterterrorism.
The newly ascendant Democrats are trying to preempt the president before he announces his new strategy. As he prepares for a nationally televised address next week, officials said, Bush is considering three main options to bolster U.S. forces in Iraq: a relatively modest deployment of fewer than 4,000 additional troops, a middle-ground alternative involving about 9,000 and, the most aggressive idea, flowing 20,000 more troops into the country.
In a speech today unveiling his own revised security plan, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is expected to publicly welcome additional U.S. troops, a condition requested by the Bush administration. Maliki's cooperation is pivotal to Bush's own efforts. Bush told Maliki in a videoconference Thursday that the United States is willing to help but that Maliki has to deliver along the way, U.S. officials said.
In preparation for the shift in strategy, Bush reshuffled his national security leadership team yesterday. He replaced the top two generals running the Iraq war, named a new Army chief of staff, moved his intelligence director over to the State Department and put a veteran officer in charge of intelligence. Officials have said he also plans to move his ambassador in Baghdad to the United Nations and replace him with a veteran diplomat.
Over the next few days before his speech, Bush is conducting intensive consultations with lawmakers, foreign allies and advisers. He met with lawmakers from both parties yesterday and plans to talk with leaders of Britain, Australia and possibly Denmark, countries that still have major military contingents in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and diplomats. The White House said he will talk with both Pelosi and Reid before announcing his new strategy.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the sessions with lawmakers have featured "some vigorous exchanges" and have been useful. "The fact is that these meetings may not be happy-face 'Kumbaya,' but they have been very constructive in the sense that people are talking respectfully about important issues and expressing their ideas," he said. "And some of them are quite interesting. And we're taking them into account."
But some lawmakers have left the meetings unsatisfied. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a conservative Democrat needed by Bush if he hopes to have any support across the aisle, said he pressed the president yesterday to provide a clear and specific mission before ordering additional forces to Iraq. "The White House has to make the case for sending in more troops before they send the troops," he said. "We need a new direction, not just a new slogan."
Even many Republicans appear unenthusiastic about troop increases. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Thursday night on MSNBC's "Hardball" that he might say no to the surge. "I want to know what it all is," Lott said of Bush's overall plan. "But here's my main point: We've got to change the status quo. At some point we've got to say to the Iraqis, 'Congratulations. Saddam is dead. We've given you an opportunity for peace and freedom. It's yours.' "
The letter by Pelosi and Reid sent a signal that the new congressional leadership intends to be aggressive in voicing opposition to Bush's handling of the war. With their new majorities, they have a bigger political megaphone and more ability to bring pressure to bear. At the same time, Pelosi and Reid have eschewed using the main legislative mechanism to change policy, namely cutting off funding for the war.
"Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed," Pelosi and Reid wrote. "Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. . . . Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain."
By releasing the sternly worded letter, Democratic leaders hoped to jump ahead of Bush and set the agenda for the weekend talk shows. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the party wants to address even the terminology of the White House plan, defining it not as a "surge" but as an "escalation." "People are going to know [the president] has a very critical audience in the Democratic Congress on this proposal," he said.