Bush: No "early withdrawal" so long as "we run Congress"

Two missing soldiers are reportedly found dead as Republicans -- and some Democrats -- push back against a timeline for troop withdrawal.

Published June 20, 2006 1:21PM (EDT)

When we talked with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid earlier this month, he complained that congressional acquiescence to the White House means that the United States has only two branches of government now. "We have the executive, the executive and the judicial," Reid said.

George W. Bush apparently agrees -- only he's not complaining.

At a fundraising dinner Monday night, the president told fellow Republicans that there would be no "early withdrawal" from Iraq "so long as we run the Congress and occupy the White House."

As a practical matter, of course, both Bush and Reid are right. While the president may not always have it exactly how he wants it at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue -- immigration and Social Security reform being two recent examples -- Republicans in the House and the Senate have ensured that Bush will have it his way Iraq.

As we noted Monday, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed are introducing legislation calling for U.S. troops to begin coming home from Iraq by the end of 2006. There's no end date in the Levin-Reed measure, no date by which all U.S. troops are to have been redeployed; in a sense, the measure -- backed by a Democratic leadership determined to avoid a stiffer but still watered-down withdrawal measure backed by John Kerry, Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer -- really just mirrors the claims of U.S. military officials, who have been saying for at least a year now that some troop withdrawals ought to be possible this year.

But the Republicans in the Senate -- and even some Democrats -- seem unwilling to push the president even that far. Predictably, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has already called the Levin-Reed measure "cutting and running" and said that "retreat is not a solution." While Sen. Hillary Clinton isn't using that kind of language, she's still resisting anything like a timetable for withdrawal. "We have to set some benchmarks, have to put some requirements on the Iraqi government, so they know they have to reach certain goals for us to be supportive," Clinton said Monday. "And we have to redeploy our troops, as possible, so that we don't add to the problems there."

Read that again -- not "as soon as possible," but "as possible."

Of course, it's "possible" to bring U.S. troops home tomorrow, if only there were the political will in Washington to do so. Would a U.S. withdrawal really make matters worse in Iraq? The Iraqi people don't seem to think so. Bush said Monday that talk of a deadline for troop withdrawal -- and again, the Levin-Reed proposal has no ultimate deadline -- "sends chills through the spines of Iraqi citizens who are wondering whether or not the United States has the capacity to keep its word." But in a poll conducted earlier this year, 70 percent of Iraqis said they want to see a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Back home, a new CNN poll shows that a majority of Americans also want a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and 47 percent of the public wants to see a deadline of a year or less -- suddenly making that "extreme" Kerry-Feingold-Boxer measure, which calls for the withdrawal by July 1, 2007, of all troops not involved in training, seem pretty darned mainstream.

The president warned Monday night that an "early withdrawal" from Iraq will "embolden" Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. But it's a little late to be talking about "early," and the terrorists are seeming pretty emboldened as it is. A day after a group linked to al-Qaida claimed to have two missing U.S. soldiers in its custody, a senior Iraqi official tells Reuters that the soldiers have been found dead, and that there are signs that they were "tortured in a barbaric fashion."

If the report is correct, the U.S. death toll in Iraq now stands at 2,506.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Hillary Rodham Clinton Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room