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Sen. Reid Says Bush Is in 'Denial' of Iraq Situation
"In short, there is no evidence that the escalation is working," Reid said. "It has now been three months" since the troop increase began, he said, "and despite the president's happy talk, no progress has been made. The time for patience is long past."
He said the war in Iraq is eroding the ability of the United States to deal with other challenges, such as Iran's nuclear program, the resurgence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and "genocide in Africa."
Reid called Bush "the odd man out" on Iraq war policy and said meetings with him are not substantive but merely "carefully scripted sessions where he repeats his talking points."
"Our timetable is fair and reasonable," Reid said. "We have put our plan on the table. If the president disagrees, let him come to us with an alternative."
He added, "Instead of sending us back to square one with a veto, some tough talk and nothing more, let him come to the table in the spirit of bipartisanship that Americans demand and deserve." He also challenged Bush to define the "victory" that he insists U.S. forces must stay in Iraq to achieve.
Reid reserved some of his harshest rhetoric for Vice President Cheney, whom he said Bush has deployed as the administration's "chief attack dog" against the Democrats' plan to end the war in Iraq.
"This is the same vice president who said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that we would be greeted as liberators, and that we know Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda. To suggest he lacks credibility would be an understatement," Reid said.
"The vice president demeans himself and diminishes his office by offering wildly irresponsible and inaccurate attacks on us and our strategy. He seems more interested in sound bites than sound policy -- and his record shows it."
After receiving a briefing from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Bush said this morning, "It's a tough time there. . . ." Petraeus will brief lawmakers "about what's going right and what's not going right" in Iraq, he said. "As the general will tell the folks on Capitol Hill, there's been some progress. There's been some horrific bombings, of course, but there's also a decline in sectarian violence."
Asked whether he could compromise with congressional Democrats on a timetable for a U.S. pullout, Bush said, "I believe strongly that politicians in Washington shouldn't be telling generals how to do their job. And I believe artificial timetables of withdrawal would be a mistake."
Such a timetable would tell the enemy in Iraq to wait out U.S. forces, would dissuade the Iraqi government from doing the "hard things necessary to achieve our objectives" and "would be discouraging for our troops," he said.
"And, therefore, I will strongly reject an artificial timetable withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job," he said. "I will, of course, be willing to work with the Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, on a way forward. . . . But I also made it clear that no matter how tough it may look, that for the Congress to micromanage this process is a mistake."
House Republican leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) expressed strong support for Bush's position, saying lawmakers "should listen to our generals and our soldiers, and provide them with the resources they need -- not preemptively declare defeat."
Accusing Democrats of being "reckless and irresponsible" by refusing to approve a $100 billion supplemental appropriation on the administration's terms, Boehner called on Democratic Party leaders "to finally do the right thing and approve a clean troop funding bill."
After his meeting with Petraeus, Bush was also asked about Gonzales, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about his role in the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The attorney general "gave a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer -- honestly answer," Bush said. "And in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job."
Gonzales "has a right to recommend to me to replace U.S. attorneys," who "serve at the pleasure of the president," Bush said.
"In other words, we have named them, and I have the right to replace them with somebody else," he said. "And as the investigation or the hearings went forward, it was clear that the attorney general broke no law, did no wrongdoing. And some senators didn't like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. And this is an honest, honorable man in whom I have confidence."