Nominee for key military post urges new Iraq approach


Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 11:49 p.m.

WASHINGTON — It may be time to "redefine the goals" for Iraq, the admiral President Bush picked to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East told Congress on Tuesday as lawmakers of both parties maneuvered for leverage against Bush's proposed troop buildup.

Navy Adm. William Fallon, Bush's nominee to head the U.S. Central Command, told his Senate confirmation hearing the time for finding solutions in Iraq was running out.

"What we have been doing has not been working," he said. "We have got to be doing, it seems to me, something different." He did not say what might change under his command.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, just returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, told a news conference on Capitol Hill that her delegation saw no sign that U.S. efforts in Iraq were moving ahead with urgency.

"We went with the hope and expectation that what we would see in Iraq was some coordinated effort to have political solutions, to relieve the civil strife and violence there, and diplomatic efforts to bring stability to the region," she said. "We saw no evidence of either, sadly."

The California Democrat praised the U.S. military's efforts but said more must be done on the economic and political fronts.

Rejecting Bush's troop buildup, Pelosi called for refocusing the U.S. military mission from combat to a combination of training Iraqi forces, protecting Iraq's borders and fighting terrorists.

Bush's declaration last week that "I am the decision-maker" on issues of war also ran into resistance, this time from a prominent Republican. Bush has said he intends to push ahead with his plan to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq, regardless of any resolution the Senate may pass.

"I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said during a hearing on Congress' war powers. "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility."

There were about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq before the increase.

The question of how to try forcing an end to the war in Iraq, and under what conditions, is among the issues faced by the newly empowered Democratic majority in Congress, and some of Bush's political allies as well.

James A. Baker III, secretary of state during Bush's father's administration, told a congressional hearing Tuesday that the White House should find a way to negotiate with Congress on troop additions.

"A majority of Congress is ready to vote against a surge" in troops, Baker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Baker was co-chairman of a bipartisan commission that recommended the administration pull out U.S. combat brigades by early 2008, launch new diplomatic initiatives with Iran and Syria and vastly increase the number of U.S. military advisers in Iraq.

Fallon, whom Bush nominated to replace Army Gen. John Abizaid as head of Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was not yet sure how he would go about changing the approach in Iraq.

"One of the things in the back of my mind that I'd like to get answered is to meet with the people that have been working this issue — particularly our ambassadors, our diplomats — to get an assessment of what's realistic and what's practical," Fallon said.

"And maybe we ought to redefine the goals here a bit and do something that's more realistic in terms of getting some progress and then maybe take on the other things later," he added without elaborating.

His spokesman, Capt. William Alderson, said later that Fallon preferred not to address the issue in more detail until after he had been confirmed by the full Senate.

Fallon told the senators, "I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around, but time is short."

"I think that we would probably be wise to temper our expectations here, that the likelihood that Iraq is suddenly going to turn into something that looks close to what we enjoy here in this country is going to be a long time coming," he said.

One of the leading Republicans opposed to Bush's troop buildup, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, said Fallon appeared to be distancing himself from the Bush plan. He urged the admiral to consider other approaches in Iraq as he takes over for Abizaid, who is retiring.

Warner said he hoped Fallon would feel free "to point out those areas in this plan which you feel need flexibility, options that can be pursued, other than the rigidity of just 20,000 new troops right into the face of sectarian violence."

With a Senate showdown over the Iraq war apparently days away, No. 2 Senate GOP leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he had concerns with each of the resolutions on the war introduced so far. If Republican leaders do not rally behind a single proposal, the party could avoid taking a clear, united stance on the widely unpopular Iraq war — a consequence Lott suggested he wouldn't mind.

"To herd the cat some times you have to let them stray," he said. "Think about that. Keeping them together by letting them stray."

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a presidential hopeful, introduced legislation to implement an Iraq plan that focuses on finding a political solution in Baghdad while beginning a withdrawal of U.S. troops and "bringing this war to a responsible end."

Fallon, 62, currently commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said he saw a need for a comprehensive approach to Iraq, including economic and political actions to resolve a problem that requires more than military force.

Separately, John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence, said at his confirmation hearing for the post of deputy secretary of state that Iraq is still having trouble policing its long border with Syria.

Negroponte said Syria is letting 40 to 75 foreign fighters cross its border into Iraq each month, and he repeated the charge that Iran is providing lethal help to insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. He gave only mild endorsement to the administration's diplomatic hands-off policy toward Damascus and Tehran.

Several senators asked Fallon his views on Iran, which the Bush administration accuses of meddling in Iraq's internal affairs and supplying weapons for use by insurgents against American and Iraqi soldiers.

"They are posturing themselves with the capability to attempt to deny us the ability to operate in this vicinity," Fallon said, adding that there is room for diplomatic efforts with Iran because it has an economic stake in keeping open the Persian Gulf's commercial shipping lanes.

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