National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Bush Pushes For Longer War

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is showcasing its top general in Iraq in an effort to sell more war to Congress.


A sign of hope is that Senate Democratic leaders aren't buying it.

Armed with charts and statistics, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, did the job he was expected to do. The general wants to keep the bulk of American forces — about 130,000 troops — in Iraq through next summer.

Meantime, he supports a drawdown of 30,000 troops, which would put U.S. forces at their pre-"surge" level, a move that President Bush is expected to trumpet when he speaks to the nation on Thursday night.

Getting out ahead of Bush's speech, Senate Democratic leaders rejected Petraeus' plan on the ground that it didn't get enough Americans out of Iraq fast enough.

The Petraeus planned troop cut "is unacceptable to me, it's unacceptable to the American people," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told a news conference. The troop cut "is neither a drawdown nor a change in mission that we need. His plan is just more of the same."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services

Committee, said the troop buildup Bush announced in January had failed to achieve its stated goal of giving the fledgling Iraqi government breathing room. But that government remains dysfunctional, Levin claimed. And "the president is just going to stay the course indefinitely."

It's not clear what the Senate Democrats could do to change U.S. policy in Iraq unless they can win the support of enough Republicans to reach the magic number of 60 members who could vote to end a filibuster. The Senate now is divided into 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats, with two independents who generally vote with the Democrats.

In testimony at hearings before House and Senate committees, Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker gave President Bush some running room to draw out the war until he leaves office and can hand the fiasco over to a new president.

On Monday — the first day of their upbeat testimony — nine American troops were killed in Iraq. It's not known how many Iraqis died because the Pentagon still says "we don't track them." And the Iraqi Ministry of Health also stopped counting Iraqi casualties some time ago.

If Congress is able to use its power over the federal budget to design a new faster exit strategy for getting out of Iraq, the lawmakers would then face a presidential veto.

There's actually a silver lining in that dreadful scenario. A Bush veto would make it crystal clear to the American people that this is Bush's war that he is waging without their support.

A recent Gallup-USA Today poll said 60 percent of those polled want a set timetable for withdrawal of troops, starting this year.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. — a persistent critic of the war who does not plan to run again — laid it on the line in the strongest terms.

"Are we going to continue to invest blood and treasure at the same rate we're doing now?" Hagel asked. The senator has supported legislation to set a deadline to bring the troops home.

Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has hinted at his disenchantment with the war but hasn't stepped up to announce a withdrawal of support.

Lugar said he believes some success in Iraq is possible but added "we should acknowledge that we are facing extraordinarily narrow margins for achieving our goals."

For all that, outgoing White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that Bush feels success in Iraq is vital to U.S. security, regardless of popular opposition to the war. "If some steps he takes makes him unpopular, he will accept that hit," said Snow.

It's not the question of Bush's popularity. That's been settled.

The question is how many more are doomed to die in Iraq before Bush is able to accept his colossal mistake?


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