Bush issues Iraq report as Senate argues over strategy
President indicates he will not make significant changes until a "more comprehensive assessment" is delivered in September.
President Bush on Thursday said he will continue to rely on his military commanders on the ground in Iraq as he decides on troop levels in the country, rebuffing demands that he begin immediate withdrawals and suggesting he will not allow the decision to be driven by lawmakers or popular opinion.
His comments, accompanying the release of an interim report to Congress on progress in Iraq, spurred Democrats and Republicans to launch appeals for support for their competing positions on the war. Bush told a White House news conference he holds out some prospect of a troop drawdown, but said it must be linked to the success of U.S. operations on the ground.
"We're working to defeat al-Qaida and other extremists and aid the rise of an Iraqi government that can protect its people, deliver basic services and be an ally in the war against these extremists and radicals," Bush said. "By doing this, we'll create the conditions that would allow our troops to begin coming home while securing our long-term national interests in Iraq and in the region."
Although the interim progress report drew varying assessments on Iraq, citing satisfactory progress in only eight of 18 key areas, Bush indicated he will not make significant changes in strategy until a "more comprehensive assessment" is delivered in September.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Bush's report the latest proof that "the war in Iraq is headed in a dangerous direction," adding he was pleased that seven Republicans voted Wednesday for an amendment that would have set mandatory down time for troops between overseas deployments.
Republicans downplayed those defections, noting that the amendment failed, and predicted the defeat of upcoming Democratic-led amendments. They were joined by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who said the report indicated a need for continued persistence from U.S. armed forces and that he believes "General Petreus and his troops have al-Qaida on the run."
Reid said he and other Democratic leaders were sending a letter to the president laying out what they believe the problems are and asking what Bush is doing to address such concerns.
As debate continued on the Senate's fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill, senators continued to seek allies for their war-related amendment. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a longtime opponent of the war, said he would back an amendment by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would mandate the White House begin to withdraw troops from Iraq within 120 days and maintain only a "limited presence" in the country by next spring.
Feingold added he does not plan to push for a more stringent proposal that he and Reid have offered in the past that would cut off most funding for the war this spring. But Feingold warned he would introduce his amendment during debate on the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill should Levin-Reed fail.
Despite mounting GOP defections on Iraq, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backed the White House stance that lawmakers should wait until the release of a final progress report in September before acting on the war. "There is much at stake here and, frankly, they deserve to be heard," McConnell said.