Sen. Reid Says Bush Is in 'Denial' of Iraq Situation

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007; 1:32 PM

President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) clashed today over the war in Iraq, with Reid charging that Bush is in "denial" about the situation there and the president strongly rejecting what he calls the Democrats' "artificial timetable" for withdrawing U.S. forces.

In brief remarks to reporters at the White House, Bush also said his confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has "increased" as a result of his testimony before a Senate committee last week, an appearance he said made clear that his embattled friend and longtime confidant "broke no law" and "did no wrongdoing."

With Congress expected to pass an emergency war funding bill this week that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2008, Bush conferred with the top U.S. commander in Iraq in the Oval Office this morning and accused lawmakers of trying to "micromanage" the war.

He spoke after Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, released excerpts from a speech today in which he calls on Bush to abandon his threat to veto the war funding bill and negotiate a compromise. Reid delivered the speech on the war in Iraq at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington at midday.

Reid did not repeat his assertion last week that "this war is lost," a comment that drew sharp criticism from Republicans, who branded the Senate majority leader as defeatist. But he mixed sharp criticism of Bush with praise for Congress's efforts to end the conflict and appeals to antiwar voters to be patient.

The emergency war funding bill that Congress plans to finalize this week in a House-Senate conference committee will include "a fair and reasonable timetable" for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, Reid said.

"Now in the fifth year of President Bush's mismanagement and mistakes, there is no magic formula," Reid said, according a text of his speech released by his office. "But, there is a way forward that gives us our best chance for a responsible end to the war -- that protects our strategic interests, strengthens our security, and brings our troops home. That way forward is being forged today in Congress, with the help and advice of Democrats and Republicans, civilian experts and retired generals, as well as the good judgment of the American people, who have made their voices heard loud and clear."

In defending his order to increase U.S. troop strength in Iraq by about 30,000 as part of a plan to secure Baghdad and western Iraq, Bush "tells us it's 'surge or nothing,'" and that the choice is to "stay the course or fail," Reid said. "With all due respect, our president is wrong, and the new Congress will show him the way."

Vowing that Congress will no longer "turn a blind eye to the Bush administration's incompetence and dishonesty," Reid said, "Winning this war is no longer the job of the American military. Our troops have already done their job. . . . The military mission has long since been accomplished. The failure has been political. It has been policy. It has been presidential."

As for antiwar voters who expect the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to take action to end the war, the Senate majority leader said, "I understand the restlessness that some feel. Many who voted for change in November anticipated dramatic and immediate results in January. But like it or not, George W. Bush is still the commander in chief -- and this is his war."

In reference to a Bush speech last week in which he cited signs of progress resulting from his troop-surge plan, Reid said, "The White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the state of Michigan. I believe he made them in the state of denial."

He cited increasing U.S. casualties, "untold thousands" of Iraqi civilian deaths and the Iraqi government's failure to "take meaningful steps" toward achieving benchmarks such as disbanding militias and amending the constitution.

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