Bush, Cheney, Reid dig in on Iraq stands

/ Source: The Associated Press

While President Bush stood firmly against a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exchanged unpleasantries about the war strategy.

Cheney accused Reid, D-Nev., of pursuing a defeatest strategy in Iraq to win votes in the next election — a charge Reid said did not warrant a response.

“Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics,” Cheney told reporters at the Capitol after attending the weekly Republican policy lunch. “Sen. Reid himself has said that the war in Iraq will bring his party more seats in the next election.

“It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage,” Cheney said.

Reid dismissed Cheney’s remarks later to reporters, but not before getting in his own dig at the vice president.

“I’m not going to get into a name calling match with the administration’s chief attack dog,” Reid said.

Bush earlier Tuesday said he was "disappointed that the Democratic leadership has chosen this course."

"They chose to make a political statement," he said. "That's their right but it is wrong for our troops and it's wrong for our country. To accept the bill proposed by the Democratic leadership would be to accept a policy that directly contradicts the judgment of our military commanders."

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. Democrats would need a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

Democrats said they won't back down and pointed to past remarks by Gen. David Petraeus, the new Iraq commander, that security in Iraq requires a political solution.

Bush like LBJ?
Reid, who says the war in Iraq is "lost," on Monday 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.

Bush said Monday that U.S. troops should not be caught in the middle of a showdown between the White House and Congress.

"Yesterday, Democratic leaders announced that they planned to send me a bill that will fund our troops only if we agree to handcuff our generals, add billions of dollars of unrelated spending and begin to pull out of Iraq by an arbitrary date," Bush said on the South Lawn.

He said the bill would mandate the withdrawal of U.S. troops beginning as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1, despite the fact that Petraeus has not yet received all the reinforcements he has said he needs in the latest military buildup to help secure Baghdad and the troubled Anbar Province.

Democrats have argued that the election that left Democrats in control of Congress was a referendum for a change of strategy in Iraq. Bush used the same election results to argue his point.

"The American people did not vote for failure," he said. "That is precisely what the Democratic leadership's bill would guarantee.

"It's not too late for Congress to do the right thing."

Petraeus will try to persuade lawmakers in a private briefing this week to pursue a difference course. As part of the president's push, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to meet Tuesday with key senators, including members of the Senate Finance Committee, to discuss the funding bill.

Ads target Reid
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.