WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush is likely to find himself close to alone this week in defending his Iraq war policy.
As the White House prepares its first major progress report for Congress, war-weary Republicans are focusing their efforts on protecting unrelated anti-terrorism programs while Democrats are trying again to pass legislation ordering troop withdrawals.
Simmering in the background is a growing sentiment among at least some Republicans that the U.S. strategy is failing and Bush should adopt a new policy before the August recess.
“We have an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to truly change our Iraq strategy, to make America more secure, more safe,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “The question is whether President Bush and the Senate Republicans will join in that effort. I hope they do.”
The Senate began debate Monday on legislation that would authorize $649 billion in defense programs. By week’s end, senators are expected to vote on an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would order troop withdrawals to begin in four months with the goal of completing the pullout by spring 2008.
The vote is likely to come on the heels of the Iraq progress report, which is expected to point to success in some areas – such as the reduction in violence in the western Anbar province – but ultimately argue that more time is needed to yield results. The report is expected to be released by week’s end.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on Monday tried to lower expectations on the report, contending that all of the additional troops had just gotten in place and it would be unrealistic to expect major progress by now.
Congressional Republicans, including most of those calling for a new Iraq strategy, were expected to oppose Levin’s proposal to set a timetable for troop withdrawals. But various members were expected to propose alternative measures, including legislation calling on Bush to adopt as U.S. policy recommendations by the Iraq Study Group, which identified a potential redeployment date of spring 2008.
So far, six GOP senators – Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Robert Bennett of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Pete Domenici of New Mexico – support such legislation.
Other prominent Republican senators, including Richard Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, also say the U.S. should begin redeployments.
As the Senate debate began, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee arranged to run television commercials in four states beginning Tuesday to pressure Republicans on the war.
The ads are to run in Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire, according to knowledgeable officials, but the DSCC so far has committed to spending a relatively small amount of money, less than $100,000 in all.
Barring a change in plans that means the ads would not be seen widely in any of the four states.
The targets include Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Collins of Maine, Sununu of New Hampshire and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. All face re-election next year.
The boost in troop levels in Iraq has increased the cost of war there and in Afghanistan to $12 billion a month, with the tally for Iraq alone nearing a half-trillion dollars, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which provides research and analysis to lawmakers.