Warner: Time to bring troops home

Sen. John Warner’s call for troop withdrawals from Iraq is likely to ratchet up pressure on President Bush substantially and lend momentum to Democratic efforts to end U.S. combat.

Warner, R-Va., former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Navy secretary during the Vietnam War, said Bush should bring some troops home by Christmas. Doing so, he told reporters Thursday, would send a powerful message that the U.S. commitment in Iraq was not open-ended.

Warner says the president should get to decide when and how many troops should leave. Bush has opposed setting a date to pull out troops and contends that conditions on the ground should dictate deployments.

“I’m hopeful that this (redeployment) could lead to more emphasis on the Iraqi forces taking the major responsibility, as it relates to the internal insurgency in that country,” the Virginia Republican said.

Warner’s suggestion comes as a new intelligence assessment says Iraqis have failed to govern effectively or reach the political compromises believed necessary to tamp down sectarian violence.

Overall, the report finds that Iraq’s security will continue to “improve modestly” over the next six to 12 months, provided that coalition forces mount strong counterinsurgency operations and mentor Iraqi forces. But even then, violence levels will remain high as the country struggles to achieve national political reconciliation, and the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is likely to become increasingly vulnerable because of criticism from various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

“The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decision-making, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability” to factions that could form a rivaling coalition, the document says.

Democrats say the grim report and Warner’s conclusion bolster their position that Bush should change course and start bringing troops home this fall. Party leaders this year tried to pass legislation ordering troops home this fall, but repeatedly fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass.

“Our military has performed their duties excellently, but the purpose of the escalation in Iraq was to create a secure environment in which political change could occur, and it is clear that the Iraqi leaders have failed to make progress,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Republican leaders countered that the intelligence assessment bolsters their position that U.S. troops should stay. The report warns that limiting the mission of U.S. forces to a support role and counterterrorist operations — as Democrats and some Republicans suggest — would “erode security gains achieved thus far.”

“The fact that Democratic leaders continue to push for precipitous withdrawal despite the significant progress our troops are making shows just how deeply invested they are in failure,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Democrats agree the military has made substantial gains in Iraq, but they say the progress made is useless if the Iraqi government is unable to take control.