By The Hill Staff - 02/21/07 12:00 AM EST
Congressional Democrats, seizing on an announcement from Great Britain that it would begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, said Wednesday that the White House should take a cue from its closest ally and get U.S. soldiers out of Iraq instead of sending in more.
"Why are thousands of additional American troops being sent to Iraq at the same time that British troops are planning to leave?" asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair announced earlier Wednesday that a large part of the British force would withdraw from southern Iraq.
Blair said 1,600 of the 7,100 soldiers would withdraw in the coming months, with further troop reductions already planned later this year. He added that Iraqis would be able to take care of their own security in areas where British soldiers were stationed. Denmark also announced that it would withdraw its smaller contingent, which is working in cooperation with the British.
"The president's escalation plan has been rejected by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate and opposed by Americans all across the country," Pelosi said, referring to votes last week in the House and the Senate. "The announcement by the British government confirms the doubts in the minds of the American people about the president's decision to increase the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq."
But the administration said Blair's announcement is welcome news because it shows that Iraqis are increasingly able to take care of their own security needs.
"It indicates that there's been some progress in Basra," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters aboard Air Force One. "The fact that there has been progress in a couple of areas - one is training up Iraqis to take over some of the responsibilities that the Brits and the Danes have been handling within Basra - has made it possible for Britain to remove some of the forces."
In an interview with ABC News, Vice President Cheney, who is traveling in Asia, said he sees Britain's plan as "an affirmation of the fact that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well."
But Democrats offered a different take on Britain's decision.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said, "America's leading ally in Iraq has decided that a timetable for the phased redeployment of troops is the only responsible policy to help force Iraqis to stand up for Iraq."
Kerry has decided not to seek the presidency again in 2008 and instead said he would focus his energy on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq. "After years of touting Prime Minister Blair's resolve, the [Bush] administration should now pay attention to his new policy," Kerry stated, adding it is "inexplicable" why Bush is seeking to send additional troops to Iraq at this time.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the decisions by Britain and Denmark "leaves us increasingly isolated in Iraq," adding that "the coalition, which was never sufficiently robust to begin with, has all but disappeared."