Analysis: Compromise on Iraq Benchmarks?

The Associated Press
Monday, April 30, 2007; 7:23 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and congressional Democrats don't agree about much when it comes to the Iraq war, but one of the areas where they disagree the least is the need to measure the Baghdad government's progress.

That makes the issue ripe for negotiation in an evolving veto struggle over the war, even though the administration and its critics are fiercely at odds when it comes to how _ and whether _ to enforce these so-called benchmarks for self-defense and democracy in Iraq's post-Saddam Hussein era.

"The problem is, why tie our own hands?" Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday. "And that's the problem with having so-called consequences for missing the benchmarks," she added, in effect warning Congress not to pass a timetable for a troop withdrawal by another name.

Democrats began laying out their own case in public last week, even before they passed war-funding legislation that Bush has said he will veto.

"If the president doesn't want to enforce the timelines the U.S. Congress has proposed for reduction of the number of troops in Iraq, he should at least be willing to enforce timelines the Iraqi government has set for itself," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said after participating in a White House meeting on the war.

Any serious attempt at compromise will wait until later in the week, after Bush has carried out his veto of the war-funding bill and its attached withdrawal timetable. The measure sets a deadline of Oct. 1 for the withdrawal to begin, with a goal of completion six months later.

The president said Friday his veto will be sustained, and no Democrat has stepped forward to challenge his prediction.

Bush also has invited the leaders of both parties to the White House on Wednesday. And he said that once he casts his veto he'll be ready to work with Democrats on a new version that provides funds without strings attached.

Bush is "willing to work with the Democrats on benchmarks," the House Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, told reporters last week.

Barring a change in plans, Democrats have signaled they intend to jettison the timeline from the follow-up bill they draft. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others insist they will not send the president a blank check to prosecute a war that so far has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 U.S. troops.

Administration officials give Bush credit for injecting the issue of benchmarks into the public debate about the war.

"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," he said in a speech in January in which he also announced an increase in troop strength to try to curtail sectarian violence, particularly in the Baghdad area.

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