Senators tell Bush to be more open on Iraq

Even with the doors to the Senate chamber shuttered, three Democratic senators appeared on Capitol Hill yesterday to push President Bush to provide more details on his plan in Iraq.

The senators, Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Jack Reed (R.I.), sent a letter to Bush yesterday urging him to “use your speech [today] as an opportunity to speak more honestly and openly about the remaining tasks, challenges and plans for U.S. forces.”

Since forcing an unusual closed session of the Senate a little more than a month ago to push the Intelligence Committee to wrap up its probe into prewar intelligence, Senate Democrats have sought to keep a spotlight on the war.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean guaranteed that would happen by telling a Texas radio station that the idea that the war can be won is “just plain wrong.”

That drew immediate criticism from Bush, who countered, “Oh, there’s pessimists, you know, and politicians who try to score points. But our strategy is one that is — will lead us to victory.”

Seated beneath portraits of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Reid’s ceremonial office, Reid, Levin and Reed stopped short of formulating their own specific plan for victory and exit but called on the president to do so.

“Only by outlining for the American people a full and complete strategy for success with the political, economic and military benchmarks by which to measure the progress and fully and publicly briefing the Congress about this strategy will the troops, their families and the American people truly benefit,” they wrote.

The senators portrayed Bush’s recent comments on Iraq as “polling and marketing” and asked him to “stick to the facts, both good and bad.” Earlier in the day, a group of nine House Republicans held a marathon press conference, lasting more than an hour, to argue that progress is being made in Iraq. “This operation’s proceeding apace,” said Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). The House Republicans stood in front of a poster bearing 51 instances of the White House’s new slogan, “Victory in Iraq.”

“I think we have lost sight of who the bad guys are,” said Michael Conaway (R-Texas), who invoked the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to justify continued involvement in Iraq. “Those are the bad guys.”

Several of the lawmakers criticized the news media for not reporting the progress that they said they have seen on the ground in Iraq.

As the House Republicans were wrapping up, Reid, Reed and Levin were releasing their letter on the other side of the Capitol.

Echoing the Senate’s recent legislative call for a better-defined Iraq strategy, they wrote: “We urge you to make the following points in your speech tomorrow: 2006 will be a year of significant transition in Iraq; the Iraqi people must get their political house in order to defeat the insurgency; the political, economic and military benchmarks that need to be met to begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces; and a campaign plan with estimated dates for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq as each benchmark is met, with the understanding that unexpected contingencies may arise.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), a longtime supporter of the war, yesterday called on the president to convene a bipartisan war cabinet, according to the Hartford Courant.

“It’s up to the president and [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld to work with Congress,” Reid said when asked whether he supports the Lieberman proposal. “That’s a very, very, very cautious ‘no,’” he said at the end of a winding answer.

Despite the divergent views expressed at various venues yesterday, Reid said congressional Democrats are united.

“Democrats in the Congress are together in saying we have to get out” but differ on when that should happen, he said.

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