Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) called on the White House yesterday to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of next year and criticized fellow Democrats for being too "timid" in challenging the Bush administration's war policy.
Feingold, who is among the Democrats considering a run for president in 2008, became the first senator to propose a specific deadline for pulling all 138,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq. His comments also laid bare the rising tension within his party about how to respond to President Bush on the war.
Although critical of the administration's handling of the war, many leading Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant to press for a concrete timetable for withdrawal, agreeing with Bush that it could harm the war effort. Many congressional Democrats voted in 2002 to grant Bush authority to invade Iraq, but their liberal base has grown increasingly vocal in opposition to the war, making it difficult to send a consensus message. But as Bush's poll numbers have fallen, some Democrats have grown increasingly outspoken.
In a telephone interview from Wisconsin, Feingold said he has heard a wave of public disenchantment at 15 town hall meetings so far during the August recess, leading him to propose a Dec. 31, 2006, deadline.
"There's a deepening feeling of dismay in the country about the way things are going in Iraq," Feingold said. He rejected Bush's assertion that a deadline would make it easier for insurgents to simply hang on. "I think he's wrong. I think not talking about endgames is playing into our enemies' hand."
The White House had no comment, except to point to Bush's past statements rejecting a withdrawal timetable, a position shared by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "Like other members of the caucus, he's been calling for some benchmarks from the administration to measure progress," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said, "but he is opposed to setting a date certain for withdrawal, concerned that would undercut the troops."
Feingold is the first senator to call for a specific deadline, but several members of the House have introduced a resolution calling on Bush to initiate a withdrawal no later than Oct. 1, 2006. In a speech in January, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called on the president to pull out all troops "as early as possible in 2006."