Senators want Iraq progress by fall
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 10:40 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Several leading Senate Republicans who support President Bush's troop-boosting plan for Iraq say they will give the administration and the Iraqis about six months to show significant improvement.
"I don't think this war can be sustained for more than six months if in fact we don't see some progress," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Wednesday. Until this month, he was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Roberts' comments came two days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the new U.S. military push was the Iraqis' "last chance."
"This needs to be successful over the next six to nine months," McConnell said in an interview Monday with Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto. "And if not, we're going to have to go in a different direction."
Until now, most Republicans have been reluctant to set any timetable on the war's conduct. Their comments appear designed to hold Bush and the Iraqi government to the goal of securing the country by fall.
In Bush's address to the nation on Jan. 10, the president said: "To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November."
Roberts' and McConnell's remarks also come as Democrats press Republican senators to support resolutions critical of Bush's decision to send 21,500 more soldiers into Iraq. Two of the leading resolutions opposing the troop buildup have support from a few Republicans. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports the injection of additional troops, is drafting his own resolution to set benchmarks for progress in Iraq.
Roberts, who said he planned to support McCain's measure, said he was willing to entrust Bush's plan with Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq.
"People trust this military and I think they trust Petraeus," Roberts said in an interview. "He is the right man at the right time for a very, very difficult job."
The House, which previously had planned to wait for the Senate to vote first on a resolution, may move ahead on its own anyway. A Democratic aide said the House next week will likely review a resolution stating opposition to Bush's troop buildup with the goal of starting floor debate the week of Feb. 12.
Bush on Wednesday objected to Iraq proposals from Republicans and Democrats alike and acknowledged that "there's a lot of pessimism" in Congress about his troop buildup.
In an interview with Fox's Cavuto, Bush took issue with McConnell's statement that Bush's plan needs to be successful over the next six to nine months.
"I think it's a mistake to put timetables on difficult missions because an enemy can adjust," Bush said. "On the other hand, I certainly understand the urgency in Mitch's voice. I also understand the skepticism on Capitol Hill. I mean, no doubt, there's a lot of pessimism there today."
McConnell aides on Wednesday said the senator expects to see progress in Iraq in six to nine months.
Bush also criticized a proposal by Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate from Illinois, to have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by spring 2008. "I say that it's important to succeed and that failure in Iraq will cause chaos," Bush said.
"My admonition to those who are speaking out is let us back the troops and let us hope for the success" of their mission.
Deserted by some key Republicans, Bush nevertheless said, "I don't feel abandoned. ... When times are good, there's millions of authors of the plan. When times are bad, there's one author, and that would be me."
In the House, Republican leaders will oppose the Democrat's resolution, but try to give their GOP colleagues some means of expressing frustration with the war.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he wants to create a bipartisan panel to oversee Bush's Iraq plan and track its success by setting benchmarks and monitoring progress.
"It's substantive, it's not one of these nonbinding resolutions," Boehner said.
With more than a half a dozen Senate measures in the mix, Republicans on Wednesday sought to build alliances for their plans and attract the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster.
But each measure was struggling to meet that threshold and GOP leaders had yet to try to unify members behind a single plan.
A resolution proposed by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Republican, states opposition to the troop buildup and was expected to attract as many as 57 votes, perhaps more.
McCain's measure also picked up steam Wednesday, with Roberts, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and GOP leaders saying they might support it.
Murkowski said she might also vote with Warner and does not see the two as mutually exclusive.
But it remained unclear whether Democrats would support McCain's proposal. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Armed Services Committee's chairman, has long argued that the Iraqi government must be held to specific benchmarks, but said such a measure should make clear the consequences if the benchmarks are not met.
In his interview with Fox, Bush also seemed more cautious in his appraisal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has disappointed the administration by failing to fulfill promises despite strong support from the White House . "He's beginning to fulfill some of those pledges," Bush said in the interview. Asked if he trusted al-Maliki, Bush said, "Well, what matters is whether or not he performs. And trust is earned by doing what you say you're going to do."
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