Bush to Endorse Petraeus Plan

Gen. David H. Petraeus assured lawmakers that progress is being made in Iraq, albeit slowly.
Gen. David H. Petraeus assured lawmakers that progress is being made in Iraq, albeit slowly. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Plans by President Bush to announce a withdrawal of up to 30,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by next summer drew sharp criticism yesterday from Democratic leaders and a handful of Republicans in Congress, who vowed to try again to force Bush to accept a more dramatic change of policy.

A second day of testimony by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker yielded some of the most biting GOP objections since the president announced his troop buildup in January. Several Republicans joined Democrats in saying that Petraeus's proposal to draw down troops through the middle of next summer would result only in force levels equivalent to where they stood before the increase began, about 130,000 troops.

After meeting with Bush yesterday at the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) expressed similar dismay with the Petraeus plan. The general has refused to commit to further reductions until he can assess conditions on the ground next March.

Pelosi said she told Bush that he was essentially endorsing a 10-year "open-ended commitment." Reid said the president wants "no change in mission -- this is more of the same."

White House aides said they are working on a 20-minute prime-time speech that Bush will give tomorrow night, in which he will endorse the main elements of the strategy outlined by Petraeus and Crocker on Capitol Hill this week.

They said the president plans to emphasize that he is in a position to order troop cuts only because of the success achieved on the ground in Iraq, and that he is not being swayed by political opposition. Aides said that he plans to outline once again what he sees as the dire consequences of failure in Iraq and that he will make the troop cuts conditional on continued military gains.

Bush did not tell congressional leaders yesterday exactly what he plans to announce tomorrow night but left the clear impression that "he was going to follow Petraeus's advice," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

Although some Republicans, such as Rep. James T. Walsh (N.Y.), came out yesterday against Bush's war policy, administration officials and outside lobbyists said they detected little change in the basic politics of Iraq in Congress, where a majority of lawmakers want to bring the war to a faster close but lack the votes to overcome a presidential veto.

But the new criticism from some unexpected quarters in the GOP had leaders in both chambers casting about for new formulas that might attract bipartisan support. Such legislation might include calls to shift the mission in Iraq and begin troop withdrawals -- but without the hard and fast timelines that have previously invited Bush veto threats.

Even Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), a mainstream conservative who has never publicly strayed from the administration's position on Iraq, made it clear that she would now support "what some have called action-forcing measures."

"The difficulty of the current American and Iraqi situation is rooted in large part in the Bush administration's substantial failure to understand the full implications of our military invasion and the litany of mistakes made at the outset of the war," Dole said.

In a second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, Petraeus and Crocker reprised the generally optimistic points they made to two House committees on Monday. Appearing before the Senate's Foreign Relations and Armed Services panels, Petraeus said the additional troops have helped reduce violence in Iraq, and Crocker said he is hopeful that the Iraqis are beginning to take small steps toward political reconciliation.

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