Democrat Proposes Making Withdrawal Date Secret

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In one of the more unusual proposals to emerge in the Senate debate on Iraq withdrawal, Sen. Mark Pryor wants to keep any plans for bringing troops home a secret.

The Arkansas Democrat is a key holdout on his party's proposal to approve $122 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while setting a goal of March 31, 2008, for winding up military operations in Iraq. Unlike the plan's Republican opponents, Pryor wants a withdrawal deadline of some kind. He just doesn't want anyone outside the White House, Congress and the Iraqi government to know what it is.

"My strong preference would be to have a classified plan and a classified timetable that should be shared with Congress," Pryor said yesterday. A public deadline would tip off the enemy, "who might just bide their time and wait for us to leave," he said. "Then you'd have chaos and mayhem and instability."

Pryor said a classified plan would be provided by the president, shepherded by Senate committees and ultimately shared with Congress and Iraqi leaders. He is confident that the plan would remain secret, because Congress is entrusted with secrets "all the time."

What if the president's withdrawal plan didn't include a deadline? Or what if it leaked, through leaders in Iraq, to insurgents?

All worth considering, Pryor said. But in the meantime, "at least you'd have a plan."

Pryor and Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) broke with fellow Democrats earlier this month to oppose a nonbinding Senate resolution to withdraw from Iraq. Nelson has since fallen in line on the war funding bill, after nonbinding benchmarks for the Iraqi government were added.

Though Democratic caucus members have expressed skepticism about Pryor's plan, he has stuck to his guns, pushing for an amendment that would require the president to supply Congress with a classified plan for stabilizing Iraq, including benchmarks for withdrawing troops, within 60 days of the enactment of the funding bill, and a progress report, also classified, every 90 days afterward.

"I've had a number of [Democrats] ask me why . . . but after I explain it they do understand where I'm coming from," Pryor said. Anyway, "This is not an opinion poll question."

Pryor's idea reflects frustration among Democrats over finding a way out of a war that many are sorry they backed in the first place. But some experts question the possibility of keeping what would essentially be the entire Iraq war plan under wraps.

"It's not clear that's really workable or politically satisfying for anyone," said Steven Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense-related think tank.

At any moment before Congress, he said, "there's tons of stuff that's classified that is technical in nature -- particulars of different weapons programs and secret acquisition programs. But this is the major policy debate in Washington right now. To have a major part of that classified would be unusual, probably unprecedented."

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