Two days of hearings on the progress of the Iraq war did nothing to bring President Bush and congressional Democrats any closer to a consensus on future action, as both sides have laid down increasingly combative markers today.
This morning, Bush announced that tours in Iraq and Afganistan for Army soldiers would be reduced from 15 months to 12 months, and that he would heed the advice of Gen. David Petraeus to halt further troop withdrawals. Bush also pointedly warned Congress against sending him an Iraq spending bill that exceeds his $108 billion request or includes any troop withdrawal language.
“If the bill meets all the requirements it will be a strong show of support for our troops,” Bush said. “If it doesn’t I will veto it.”
Not long after Bush’s statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made it clear what they thought of Bush’s statements, using a press conference with Iraq veterans to lambast the president.
Reid said that the last two days of hearings with Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had given the administration the chance to answer two questions: “Has the war made us any safer? Are the troops any closer to coming home?” The answer to both, Reid said, was no.
Reid painted Bush’s latest tack as “one step forward, two back.” And while he welcomed the announcement that troops’ tours of duty would be shortened, Reid said that policy change should be codified into law and that the Senate would soon vote to do exactly that.
Pelosi echoed that point, saying “we need better answers from the president” on what conditions would be necessary in order to bring more troops home. And she emphasized — as Democrats repeatedly have in recent weeks — the connection between America’s economic woes and the financial drain of Iraq. The “failed war … has taken us deeply into debt, and that debt is taking us into recession,” Pelosi said.
No one on either side of the debate believed that the Petraeus/Crocker hearings would bring everyone together for a round of “Kumbaya.” But it is striking that Bush and Democratic leaders are growing further and further apart. Pelosi today said she feared Bush was “leaving all the tough decisions” to the next president. It may well be up to that next president to bridge the gap on Iraq, since the current breach shows no signs of narrowing anytime soon.