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Accord on Iraq War Slips Further Away

President Bush met with congressional leaders at the White House last week to discuss Iraq. Some of the Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have decided to interpret planned policy changes as 10 more years of war.
President Bush met with congressional leaders at the White House last week to discuss Iraq. Some of the Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have decided to interpret planned policy changes as 10 more years of war. (By Matthew Cavanaugh Via Bloomberg News)

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), another presidential candidate, acknowledged that some Democrats suggested taking credit for the modest drawdown the administration is ordering. But he said the suggestions were quickly overruled. Democrats, he said, would contradict their own claim of credit when they pointed out that the withdrawals were dictated more by deployment schedules than by conditions in Iraq or political pressure at home.

"It was totally disingenuous," Biden said of colleagues who suggested claiming credit. "I think we made the right decisions. Both parties have been playing this game of not being honest with the American people. I think it would have made us look as bad as they are, the phonies that they're being."

The Senate will resume the Iraq debate tomorrow, and Democrats -- along with a growing number of moderate Republicans -- are determined to reach accord on measures that could change the course of the war, if not reverse it. A bipartisan group of moderate senators traveled to Iraq this weekend to assess the situation and to plot strategy on legislation that can win 60 votes and break a threatened Republican filibuster.

"We are going to have, number one, a reduction of forces, and number two, a change in mission, structuring it so we can have 60 votes in the United States Senate," Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said by telephone from Baghdad yesterday.

One of their best opportunities to change policy, according to party strategists and White House aides, could be an amendment drafted by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine, to mandate that home leaves for troops last as long as their deployments.

The Pentagon now may keep units in Iraq as long as 15 months and send them back after 12 months of rest. Webb's measure could force the Bush administration to trim troop levels to comply with its requirements, and the White House opposes it. But it appears to be gaining momentum in the Senate, where it received 56 votes in July, just four shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster.

Webb may have 60 this time with the return of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and some Republican converts. Brian C. Nick, chief of staff to Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), said she is looking at the proposal "very carefully" and has been influenced by a Marine helicopter pilot who told Bush that short stateside breaks are limiting training and wearing down families. "Nobody's in the same place they were a few years ago," Nick said.

If Webb's measure passes, it will be the first Iraq policy bill opposed by the White House to reach Bush's desk over a Republican filibuster. Still, it will not stop the war. In the end, analysts said, that will be up to Bush or his successor.

"It's very difficult to force a president, once you've given him power to go to war, to get him to change," said Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan Defense Department official now at the liberal Center for American Progress. "It's almost impossible for Congress to do that."

Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.


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