With election-year issues such as flag burning, gay marriage — and the latest addition to the team, immigration — gaining momentum in advance of this November's midterm congressional elections, Democrats charged Monday that Republicans are planning to steal a page from their playbook and add troop reductions in Iraq to the list.
Just days after a pair of Democratic initiatives to begin a troop withdrawal went down in fiery defeat in the Senate (see "Senate Rejects Call For Withdrawal From Iraq; Cheney Slams Democrats"), Democrats were fuming Monday (June 26) over The New York Times reports that General George W. Casey, the top military commander in Iraq, met privately with President Bush on Friday and proposed a gradual drawdown of troops that could begin this fall. Their source of anger was word that the proposal was similar to one of the defeated Democratic plans offered up on Thursday, which Republicans had publicly assailed as an attempt to "cut and run" or set an artificial timetable for withdrawal.
But on Monday, White House press secretary Tony Snow sought to play down word that the possible September pullout of two combat brigades — up to 7,000 troops — was a done deal. The Times reported that the two brigades would be sent home and not replaced, and that 20,000 more troops would leave by the end of 2007.
"I would caution very strongly against everybody thinking, 'Well, they're going to pull two brigades out,' " Snow said, according to The Associated Press. "Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. It really does depend upon a whole series of things that we cannot, at this juncture, predict. I would characterize this more in terms of scenario building, and we'll see how it proceeds." Combat brigades do not constitute the bulk of the 127,000 American troops in Iraq.
Bush has said all along that he would allow his commanders in Iraq to make any decisions regarding troop withdrawals, a theme he reiterated on Monday. "In terms of our troop presence there, that decision will be made by General [George] Casey as well as the sovereign government of Iraq based upon conditions on the ground," he said.
Democrats, though, said Casey's tentative plan sounds no different than a non-binding resolution co-sponsored last week by Democratic Senator Carl Levin.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Levin said the news about Casey's meeting was a sure sign that one of the ""worst-kept secrets"" in Washington was being revealed: Republicans plan to begin a troop pullout before the elections in November to bolster their standing with an American public that has soured on the war.
"It shouldn't be a political decision, but it is going to be with this administration," Levin told the program. "It's as clear as your face — which is mighty clear — that before this election this November, there's going to be troop reductions in Iraq, and the president will then claim some kind of progress or victory." The Democratic plan called for a troop drawdown beginning in December.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, who co-sponsored a second resolution that was rejected by an 86-13 vote and called for a July 1, 2007, deadline for the removal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, also wondered why Casey's plan sounded better to Republicans. In a statement, he said the Casey plan looks "an awful lot like what the Republicans spent the last week attacking. Will the partisan attack dogs now turn their venom and disinformation campaign on General Casey?"
His co-sponsor, presidential aspirant Russ Feingold, added, "I wonder what all this talk was about, how a timeline's a bad idea and we can't tell the terrorists what we're going to do. Well, General Casey just told them."
Republicans countered that Casey does not have a set plan and that the situation on the ground in Iraq, not politics, will dictate what happens. "We will move to reduce our troops as soon as this new government gets up and gains the full confidence of its military to direct them to put down the insurgency," Republican Senator John Warner said.