Yesterday, Sen. John Warner (R-VA), a senior and respected member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on President Bush to begin a troop withdrawal from Iraq. Warner said Bush should announce in September that a few thousand U.S. troops will return home by the end of the year.
Despite the fact that Warner’s call for withdrawal was very tepid, the Senator came under heavy assault today from the right. The White House, concerned that the media was reporting that Warner had broken with Bush, “reached out to Warner’s staff and asked him” to back away from his position. But Warner would do no such thing:
Warner said Friday he stands by his remarks and that he took no issue with how his views have been characterized.
“I’m not going to issue any clarification,” Warner, R-Va., said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t think any clarification is needed. […]
When asked whether he had indeed split with Bush on Iraq, he declined to say and noted his remarks speak for themselves.
“You have to surmise that on your own,” he said.
Freedom’s Watch — a new White House front group whose mission is to maintain the escalation — attacked Warner. Appearing on PBS Newshour, Freedom’s Watch spokesman Brad Blakeman claimed Warner’s call for redeployment “hurts the cause of freedom.” (Blakeman refused to appear on the program with MoveOn’s Tom Matzzie and was called out for it by host Judy Woodruff. Blakeman comically suggested MoveOn was “not a credible group” like Freedom’s Watch.) Watch it:
Even colleagues of Warner’s took a shot at him. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said efforts to pre-empt the September White House report were ”premature and irresponsible.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said, ”It’s a little curious to me that people are proposing a change in strategy when in fact the current strategy appears now to be working.”
Additionally, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that embracing Warner’s call of a redeployment before the end of the year would be “a giant step backward.”
UPDATE: Online Newshour has the full transcript.
UPDATE II: This morning on NBC’s Today Show, Bill Kristol said of Warner’s call: “I don’t think that’s based on serious military analysis. “