As Democrats head toward a showdown with President Bush on Iraq, a leading Republican warned that they are making an all-too-familiar mistake: not listening to seasoned commanders.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said catastrophe always follows when civilians turn a deaf ear to their military officers.
In the 2003 run-up to the war, Young said in an interview, administration officials dismissed a top Army officer's estimate that securing Iraq would probably require several hundred thousand troops.
"I just don't think that it's a good idea for us here in the Congress to try to manage the conduct of the war," Young, a military appropriations expert, told his colleagues during a meeting Monday.
Gen. David Petraeus, the new Iraq commander, will try to persuade lawmakers in a private briefing this week not to set a timetable on the war.
Presidential veto promised
However, House and Senate Democratic appropriators agreed Monday on a $124 billion bill that would fund the Iraq war but order troops to begin leaving by Oct. 1 with the goal of completing the pullout six months later.
Bush has promised to veto the measure, which would force lawmakers back to the drawing table. Democrats would need a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.
"I will strongly reject an artificial timetable (for) withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with Petraeus on Monday.
Democrats said they won't back down and pointed to Petraeus' past remarks that security in Iraq requires a political solution.
"Here is the bottom line," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a speech in which he quoted a retired Army general who opposes Bush's policy. "Americans must come to grips with the fact that our military alone cannot establish a democracy."
Reid likened Bush to President Lyndon Johnson, saying Johnson ordered troop escalations in Vietnam in an attempt "to save his political legacy" only to watch U.S. casualties climb steadily.
"The time for patience is long past," said Reid, who last week said the war in Iraq was "lost."
Radio ads expected to air Tuesday will attack Reid as treating troops like a "political football," GOP officials said.
According to a transcript, an Iraq veteran identified as Capt. Trip Bellard says, "Senator Reid's remarks undercut the morale of our soldiers and undermine our troops on the ground."
As outlined by Democratic officials, the emerging legislation would require the withdrawal of U.S. forces to begin by Oct. 1, even earlier if Bush cannot certify that the Iraqi government is making progress in disarming militias, reducing sectarian violence and forging political compromises.
Another provision in the measure would withhold about $850 million in foreign aid from the Iraqis if the government does not meet those standards.
The Pentagon would be required to adhere to certain standards for the training and equipping of units sent to Iraq, and for their rest at home between deployments. Bush could waive the guidelines if necessary. Democrats assume he would, but they want him on record as doing so.
Under the nonbinding timeline, all combat troops would be withdrawn by April 1, 2008.
After that date, U.S. forces would have a redefined and restricted mission of protecting U.S. personnel and facilities, engaging in counterterrorism activities against al-Qaida and other similar organizations, and training and equipping Iraqi forces.
Democrats jettisoned some of the domestic spending that Bush has held up to ridicule, including funds for spinach growers and peanut farmers. Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others decided to include money to help farmers hit by natural disasters as well as the victims of Hurricane Katrina.