Sen. John Warner (R-VA), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently returned from a visit to Iraq. Today, he held a press conference to discuss his impressions from that trip.
Frustrated with the lack of political progress in Iraq, Warner said it is time to put some “meaningful teeth” into Bush’s claim that the U.S. commitment to Iraq “is not open-ended.” Warner said he is calling on President Bush to announce on Sept. 15 that he will “initiate the first step in a withdrawal”:
I say to the President, respectfully, pick whatever number you wish. You do not want to lose the momentum. But certainly, in the 160,000 plus — say 5,000 — could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.
While Warner called for a timetable, he argued it was not the role of Congress to mandate it. “Let the President establish the timetable of withdrawal, not the Congress,” he said. Bush need not lay out the “totality of the timetable,” Warner argued. But he must announce at least “a single redeployment of some several thousand” soldiers.
After the first redeployment from Iraq, Warner said a second contingent should be withdrawn at a later date “at the President’s discretion.” Such a move, Warner argued, “would get everyone’s attention.”
“We simply cannot as a nation stand and continue to put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action,” he said.
UPDATE: CNN reports that Warner met with White House “war czar” Gen. Doug Lute today at the White House to convey his recommendations.
UPDATE II: Asked to respond to Warner earlier today, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, “I think it’s inappropriate for me to say from here right now what the president will or will not consider.” A reporter followed up:
QUESTION: The president has frequently said a timetable would be a disastrous course of action.
JOHNDROE: Yes, and I don’t think that the president feels any differently about setting a specific timetable for withdrawl.
UPDATE III: Brad Woodhouse, President of Americans United for Change: “His call for withdrawing a mere 5,000 troops by Christmas just to send a message to the Iraqi’s just doesn’t cut it — it doesn’t meet the standard of safely ending the war or responsibly redeploying our troops out of harm’s way. The time for ‘sending messages’ has passed. The time for folks like Senator Warner, who criticize the conduct of the war and the failure of the surge, to take a stand and vote to safely end the war has arrived.”
WARNER: It seems to me the time has come to put some meaningful teeth into those comments, to back them up with some clear, decisive action to show that we mean business when those statements and others like it have been made.
And so, therefore, I make a recommendation to the president. I respectfully say to them in his consultation with the military here in the coming weeks — actually, that consultation is going along quite steadily.
Excuse me, I’ve got a bit of a cold.
That consultation is ongoing. Take into consideration the need to send a sharp and clear message throughout the region, to the United States, and one that people can understand.
I think no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th that, in consultation with our senior military commanders, he’s decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawl of our forces.
I say to the president, respectfully, pick what ever number you wish. You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly in 160,000- plus, say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.
That’s the first step.
Let the president establish the timetable of withdrawal, not the Congress. Under the Constitution, as commander in chief, he has that authority.
He need not lay out a totality of a timetable. I would advise against it. Take each step at a time, then make an evaluation of the impact of that step, that it did not lessen the momentum, did not lessen the ability of our forces to continue to supply a greater degree — provide a greater degree of security, be it Baghdad or where else we can do it, and to determine what is the reaction of the neighboring countries and the region. Perhaps they’ve all been sitting there, waiting to see what we would do.
And given the NIE, which says, Mr. President, it’s up to 12 months before we can expect any particular degree of reconciliation, we simply cannot, as a nation, stand and put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action which will get everybody’s attention.
That simple announcement of a single redeployment of some several thousand individuals under the military tradition — first-come, first-served in Iraq, first to depart — you’ve got to be careful how those selections — they can pick them from various units; put together a group and send them back. Then evaluate, re-evaluate how successful it has been. Then perhaps, at the president’s discretion, select a second date and time for a contingent to be redeployed.
Now, in my humble judgment, that will get everybody’s attention — the attention which is not being given to us at this time.
I got on the airplane, and I picked up the Jordan Times. This is the type of thing that’s written in periodicals, and each and every one of you has read it. And they say in the Jordan Times, The Iraqis hold the key to any U.S. withdrawals.
That’s got to be dispelled. Our president holds the key to any U.S. withdrawal. And I think a step as I’ve outlined will make that eminently clear.
And from that point, we’ll just have to evaluate each and every decision the president makes with regard to further withdrawals.