Local Dems skeptical of Bush's Iraq plan
President Bush's planned increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq was met with skepticism by a handful of congressional Democrats...
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — President Bush's planned increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq was met with skepticism by a handful of congressional Democrats, including Washington Reps. Norm Dicks and Adam Smith, who received a last-ditch pitch from Bush on Tuesday.
Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, neither of whom was part of the Bush briefing, also said they oppose adding more troops. During a meeting with a handful of Democrats at the White House, Bush and his national-security team said the proposed increase of about 20,000 troops is part of an Iraqi plan to control insurgents in the country.
Bush also said the Iraqi military and police are ready to take the lead from U.S. troops.
But in an interview after the meeting, Dicks said, "I am highly skeptical the Iraqis can deliver." He added that he felt that, for the first time, Bush appears to have acknowledged the level of crisis in Iraq and the drain the war has caused on U.S. troops and the public.
"He knows that if this doesn't work, we'll have to start to plan for a phased withdrawal," Dicks said. Democrats were told they should know by mid-February if the Iraqis are following through with their commitment to the plan.
The troop increase adds to the dilemma facing Democrats such as Dicks who have come to oppose the war, but aren't sure about their options.
"He is sending in more troops, and he's the commander in chief," said Dicks, who added that it would be tough for Democrats to selectively deny funding for increased U.S. forces in Iraq.
House and Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would deny the money needed to send more troops unless Congress agreed first.
The 12 Democrats who met with Bush on Tuesday represented major committees involved in oversight of Iraq, including the chairs of the House Armed Services, Intelligence and Commerce committees.
Dicks serves on the Defense Appropriations panel, and Smith is the new chairman of an Armed Services subcommittee. He said Bush put on a "full-court press," and that Bush and his team spoke of real benchmarks the Iraqis would have to meet.
"The Iraqis will have to move in first," Smith said. If they can't, he added, the full contingent of new U.S. troops may not be deployed.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked of the need to support Iraqi forces in Baghdad and volatile Anbar province with six U.S. battalions, totaling about 20,000 troops.
Smith said he doesn't see how Bush's proposal would work "because the Iraq forces have demonstrated that they only want to protect their own tribal fiefdoms."
More importantly, he added, "I worry that we will place more of our troops at risk, with only a very slim chance of success. I think too many mistakes were made earlier in Iraq, and the hole we're in now is too deep."
Bush and his group left several key questions unanswered, Dicks and Smith said. For example, Gates was unclear about what would happen if the Iraqis fail to show they are in control.
"Gates said the U.S. would pressure them," said Smith, but did not say how.
Dicks and Smith, however, both noted the president's apparent concession that this strategy would either work or mark the beginning of the end of U.S. fighting in Iraq.
Democrats repeatedly asked if this was an Iraqi-driven idea, Dicks said.
According to Dicks, Bush said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proposed the increase in troops when the two men met Nov. 30. Dicks didn't know why Bush waited until now to reveal the Iraqis' input in the plan.
Meantime, Murray and Cantwell said they opposed the president's plan but acknowledged that Democrats would have difficulty withholding money for more troops.
Murray, who voted against the war in 2002, said she did not want to do anything to impede the ability of U.S. forces already in Iraq.
Cantwell, who voted for the war, said she supports a nonbinding resolution by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., which opposes the Bush plan, but added, "I'm not satisfied with just a resolution."
She noted that no political solution has been proposed to deal with Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq, or the key issue of oil distribution to the minority Sunni population.
"You can't dictate a political solution," she said, "But guess what: You can get people to the table, but we're not doing that."
Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
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