President Bush said Wednesday that efforts by congressional Democrats to issue a rebuke of his Iraq policies are nothing more than meddling in military strategy that would have disastrous consequences for Iraq's democracy and America's security.
The Senate resumes debate Wednesday on a bill containing a timetable for bringing American troops home from Iraq. Democrats insist Bush will have to accept some sort of withdrawal deadline in exchange for the billions of dollars needed to fund the war.
"We would hope that the president understands how serious we are," said Majority Leader Harry Reid after the Senate voted to uphold a timeline proposal in a war spending bill.
But Bush said their move will not prompt him to negotiate, but to veto any funding legislation that includes a withdrawal timeline.
"The consequences of imposing such a specific and random date of withdrawal would be disastrous," Bush said in a speech at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting in Washington.
"Our enemies in Iraq would simply have to mark their calendars. They'd spend the months ahead plotting how to use their new safe haven once we were to leave," he said. "It makes no sense for politicians in Washington, D.C., to be dictating arbitary timelines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away."
Working with the president
"Members of Congress need to stop making political statements, start providing vital funds for our troops and get a bill to my desk that I can sign into law," Bush said. "If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible."
But Reid and other Democrats say they won't back down.
"Rather than making all the threats that he has, let's work with him and see if he can give us some ideas how we can satisfy the wishes of a majority of the Senate, the majority of the House and move forward," Reid said.
The bill finances operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but requires Bush begin bringing home some combat troops right away with a nonbinding goal of ending combat missions as of March 31, 2008.
The House last week passed a similar bill by a 218-212 vote. That bill orders combat troops out by Aug. 31, 2008 — guaranteeing the final spending measure negotiated with the Senate will include some sort of timetable on the war.
The battle within
Sen. John McCain, a 2008 Republican presidential aspirant, called the vote "a very bad decision."
McCain, appearing on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday from Orlando, Fla., said the war "was badly mismanaged. But there are signs of progress everywhere. ... I am confident that given the opportunity, we can have success. The consequences of failure are catastrophic because if we come home, bin Laden and Zarqawi, they are going to follow us."
Senate Republicans tried Tuesday to strip out the withdrawal language but failed in a 50-48 vote. One Democrat — Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas — sided with Republicans in opposition to the public deadline, contending such a measure would broadcast U.S. war plans to the enemies.
"Congress should not define how long our enemy has to hang on to win," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Sen. Chuck Hagel delivered the deciding vote by joining anti-war Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon in breaking ranks and voting with Democrats to put a nonbinding end date on the war.
"We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam," said Hagel, R-Neb.
Pryor said he supports setting a deadline for U.S. involvement in Iraq, but only so long as such a date remains classified. Pryor compares the 2008 date set by his Democratic colleagues akin to announcing to the Germans plans for the U.S. invasion of France in World War II.
But ultimately, Pryor said, he will vote in favor of the bill.
"At the end of the day, the end of the process, I'm going to support the troops," he said.
Just the beginning
Sen. Chuck Schumer said he sees Tuesday's vote as the first step in turning up the heat on Bush's war policies.
"This is not one battle; it's a long-term campaign," Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters.
The vote leaves hanging a small group of Republicans frustrated by the war and wanting to go on record as such but opposed to setting a timetable.
In recent months, GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Warner of Virginia, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Olympia Snowe of Maine wanted legislation expressing opposition to Bush's war strategy and setting goals for the Iraqi government to meet in exchange for continued U.S. support.
But each said they opposed setting a firm timetable on the war and sided with their Republican colleagues.
"My vote against this rapid withdrawal does not mean that I support an open-ended commitment of U.S. troops to Iraq," Collins said in a statement issued after the vote.
If Bush's strategy in Iraq does not show "significant results" by fall, "then Congress should consider all options including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year."