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Jason Leopold: Pullout-Pullback Battle Looms

Pullout-Pullback Battle Looms

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Friday 01 December 2006

President Bush outright rejected calls for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq Thursday, setting the stage for what will likely be a bitter showdown between the White House and the new Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress, who insist that the cornerstone of US policy in Iraq going forward must include a firm timetable by the administration for when US soldiers will return home.

The president's comments come on the heels of news reports Thursday that indicated a long-awaited report by the Iraq Study Group, led by Bush family confidante James A. Baker III, will recommend a "pullback" of US troops from Iraq. However, it's unclear whether "pullback" means that some US military forces will return home or simply be deployed to a neighboring country in the region.

The Baker commission stopped short of including a time frame in its final report as to when US soldiers should leave Iraq, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported. The Iraq Study Group will issue its report Wednesday with recommendations on how to stabilize the war in Iraq, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and nearly 3,000 US soldiers since the invasion was launched in March 2003.

Even though the White House is under increasing pressure to change its policies, Bush is not bound to adopt the Iraq Study Group's proposals, particularly the commission's recommendation that the administration engage in diplomacy talks with Iran and Syria. Bush has already made clear he will not engage in discussions with either country, and furthermore, he has indicated that he is more inclined to adhere to recommendations from the Pentagon, which is drafting its own report on Iraq policy, that may include increasing troop levels.

Senator Jack Reed, the Democrat from Rhode Island and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there has been a "a great debate raging - and it will continue to rage - about increasing troop levels in Iraq or maintaining their levels, but I think that the number of US forces is not the critical issue. The critical issue is what the Iraqi government is going to do to keep their government together, quell the violence and provide the services to the people that a government should and must provide."

Some Democratic Senators said Thursday they have been told that the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff have rejected the Iraq Study Group's report calling for a "pullback" of soldiers. Bush echoed that sentiment at a news conference Thursday with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan. Bush vehemently dismissed recommendations for any type of phased withdrawal, saying the United States will remain in Iraq indefinitely, "until the job is complete, at the request of a sovereign government elected by the people."

"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," Bush said. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done. This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

But Democrats said the absence of a concrete time frame in the commission's report and President Bush's refusal to set a date for significantly reducing the number of US troops in Iraq is a "mistake."

"I think that is a mistake, because I believe the announcement of a date to begin the redeployment of US forces from Iraq would increase the pressure on Iraqis to reach the political settlement that is essential to ending the sectarian violence," Senator Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday.

Levin and other Democratic leaders added that gradually pulling out of Iraq in 2007 is non-negotiable and any proposal submitted to Congress must include that crucial element in order to win the support of Democrats.

An aide to incoming House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi agreed.

"We want to wait for the actual report to come out, but it is our hope that there are serious benchmarks for withdrawal going forward," said Pelosi's aide, speaking on background since not authorized to comment on the matter publicly.

Democrats and even some Republicans who unconditionally backed the war and President Bush's policy decisions have grown tired of the deteriorating situation in Iraq and say it's high time that the Iraqi government takes responsibility for governing their country and puts a stop to the bloodshed.

"In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future," said incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during Saturday's weekly Democratic radio address. "And the Iraqis must know: Our commitment, while great, is not unending. Our brave servicemen and women continue to be maimed and killed. And the war is not making our nation safer or more secure."

Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate, broke ranks with his colleagues and penned an Op-Ed in the Washington Post Sunday calling the invasion of Iraq a "disaster" and urging President Bush to support a phased withdrawal.

"It is not too late. The United States can still extricate itself honorably from an impending disaster in Iraq," Hagel wrote in Sunday's Washington Post. "If the president fails to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder - one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead."

But Bush has refused to change his position even as the cost of the war continues to balloon and as Pentagon officials seek tens of billions of dollars in additional funds to keep the war effort alive. To date, the Iraq war has cost upwards of $350 billion. On Thursday, the Pentagon trimmed its budget request for the war from $127 billion to $100 billion. The cost of the war has risen substantially as the violence increases and more equipment is destroyed or worn out in harsh conditions, according to the Pentagon.

Still, with warnings in recent weeks from former military officials that the violence will continue to escalate and will result in a full-scale civil war, Bush has opted to take a cavalier attitude toward the issue.

Following Bush's news conference in Jordan Thursday with al-Maliki, Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, said "there is not a sense of panic" about the situation on the ground. Moreover, Hadley said, policy changes on Iraq will be made "when the president is comfortable."


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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