Republicans Backing Away From Bush on Iraq

A Republican congressman called for a deadline to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, while some other members of President Bush’s party urged on Sunday that his administration come to grips with a persistent insurgency and revamp Iraq policy.

Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina conservative, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would offer legislation next week setting a timetable for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

“I voted for the resolution to commit the troops, and I feel that we’ve done about as much as we can do,” said Jones, who had coined the phrase “freedom fries” to lash out at the French for opposing the Iraq invasion.

Other Republicans on Sunday talk shows joined Democrats in criticizing the administration for playing down the insurgency, while overestimating the ability of Iraq’s fledgling forces to fight without U.S. soldiers in the lead and failing to plan for the post-invasion occupation.

“The insurgency is alive and well. We underestimated the viability of the insurgency,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on CBS’ Face the Nation. He said the administration has “been slow to adjust when it comes to troop strength and supporting our troops.”

Graham said the Army is contending with a serious shortfall in recruiting “because this war is going sour in terms of word of mouth from parents and grandparents.” He said “if we don’t adjust, public opinion is going to keep slipping away.”

Jones, a member of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said “primarily the neoconservatives” in the administration were to blame for flawed war planning.

“The reason of going in for weapons of mass destruction, the ability of the Iraqis to make a nuclear weapon, that’s all been proven that it was never there,” he said.

Jones joins some of Congress’ most liberal Democrats in demanding a deadline to withdraw troops from a conflict they said has been too costly in U.S. lives and money.

The Bush administration contends that setting a withdrawal date would fuel an insurgency that Vice President Dick Cheney recently said was in “the last throes.”

Graham opposed setting a date. “If the insurgents drive us out … we’ve lost a big battle in the war on terror,” he said.

Jones said he was pushing the legislation because his “heart aches” at the nearly 1,700 U.S. soldiers killed and 12,000 seriously wounded in Iraq. He said Iraqis should defend themselves once their forces are trained.

Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who just returned from Iraq, joined several Democrats saying the administration must be more candid and acknowledge that it could take about two years to train Iraqi forces to replace U.S. soldiers and allow a significant pullout.

“We can’t come back to America and have our people being convinced that the Iraqi troops are prepared to take over, when they’re not,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Weldon also said the administration must “come to grips” with a rising insurgency, boosted by fighters from Syria and Iran, “which for some reason our intelligence community does not want to acknowledge or deal with.”

Weldon said he heard “a common theme” in Iraq that the largest number of foreign insurgents may be coming from Syria, but that “Iran overwhelmingly has the quality behind the insurgency.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said on CNN’s Late Edition, that “many of us warned this administration before we ever put a boot on the ground” that it would face a long-term conflict. “We didn’t have plans for it. And we are now where we are,” he said.