Democrats Dismiss Latest Plan for Iraq

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Press reports over the weekend said the Bush administration is drawing up a timetable, not for pulling troops out of Iraq as Democrats want, but for forcing the Iraqi government to assume a bigger role in securing the country.

The news did not impress Democrats, however.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said it appears President Bush is belatedly recognizing "that his strategy is a failure and that a change in course is needed."

Reid also questioned the timing of the report: "Given that this action comes just two weeks before the midterm elections, it appears the Administration is driven as much by the hope of heading off election-year defeats here at home as by ending the escalating violence in Iraq."

Reid said no plan would be effective without "benchmarks tied directly to the drawdown of U.S. troops." He said that's the measurement that matters most.

And he said if the administration is "serious about pursuing this course," it should announce the benchmarks immediately.

"The safety and security of our troops and this nation are at stake. Time is of the essence, and the American and Iraqi people are entitled to know what the remaining tasks are that will lead to the drawdown of U.S. forces," Reid said in a news release.

Other Democrats joined the "why wait" chorus. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Carl Levin said the U.S. "shouldn't wait 'til the end of the year to come up with milestones. We ought to be doing that now. We should have done it long ago."

Levin is the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Levin, like Reid, said any plan must include the "pressure" of a U.S. troop withdrawal - to prod the Iraqis to work out their political differences.

Sunday's New York Times reported that top U.S. leaders in Iraq, along with Pentagon officials, are drafting a new plan that sets a timetable for the Iraqi government to disarm its warring militias and take a greater role in its own security.

According to the Times, the administration's plan is still on the drawing board, but it's expected to go to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by year's end.

A White House spokeswoman said the New York Times report "inaccurate," and said the administration is "constantly developing new tactics to achieve our goal."

Republicans, including Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, generally oppose timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops. But Warner has been critical of the security situation in Iraq.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Warner noted that the Iraqi government is "up and functioning," and he said the U.S. government must now "keep it moving forward."

The key, Warner said, "is impressing upon that government that they've got to come to grips with what is causing this increase in violence and've got to come to grips with the private militias and get them out of business so that you're moving forward as [a unified] government.

Warner said the Bush administration is "constantly revising and looking forward," and he said the New York Times report on a new plan "does clearly the forward thinking of the administration, working with the government of Prime Minister Maliki.

Sen. John Kerry agreed with Democrat who say the Bush administration should not wait until after Election Day to release its plan for Iraq.

"I think it's immoral to have the lives of young Americans being put on the line, waiting for an Election Day event or strategy," the Massachusetts Democrat said on ABC's "This Week." "If you've got a better strategy, Mr. President, we deserve to have it now."

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