With elections in Iraq less than one week away, some members of Congress are calling for a timetable for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Massachusetts [Democratic] Congressman Martin Meehan, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, says it is clear an increasing number of Iraqis do not favor an extended occupation by U.S. troops.
Saying it's time for Americans to take off rose-tinted glasses he says Congress should begin looking at what is realistically possible in Iraq, and help plan for a U.S. withdrawal.
"It is clear the [Bush] administration has no end game in sight,” he said. “So it is time for Congress to reassert its role in foreign policy, and take the lead in providing an exit strategy in Iraq."
Congressman Meehan proposes a phased withdrawal over 12 to 18 months, leading to an eventual force level of about 30,000 U.S. troops to assist the Iraqi military and security forces in the war against insurgents and terrorists, and help with reconstruction.
Noting a new Bush administration request for about $80 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he asserts the American people will not support an endless cycle of war spending.
"The American people will not support $2 billion a week in Iraq without an exit plan, without an exit strategy, for the next five years,” he added. “There is absolutely no way that the American people will support that."
The new spending request will push U.S. spending on Iraq and Afghanistan since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States to over $300 billion.
Congressman Meehan is the second House member to suggest the United States needs to develop an exit strategy.
Last week, North Carolina Republican Howard Coble suggested that withdrawal of U.S. troops should be, in his words, an option that ought to be placed on the table for consideration.
President Bush has repeatedly ruled out any discussion of a withdrawal timetable.
Facing questioning by White House reporters Tuesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan tried to avoid being drawn into speculation about whether a new Iraqi government might eventually request a U.S. withdrawal.
"I'm not going to get into speculating about matters, but Prime Minister Allawi this morning made it very clear that it's important to continue moving forward on training and equipping the Iraqi security forces,” said Mr. McClellan. “That is what we are working to do, that is a top priority as we work to complete our mission in Iraq."
Appearing at the same Washington panel discussion as Congressman Meehan, conservative columnist William Kristol says a timetable might be appropriate at some later date, but not now.
"I think we could get to a phased withdrawal in 12 or 18 months, but I think it is much safer to say we are going to stay there and do what it takes to help decent Iraqis beat down this terrorism," said Mr. Kristol.
Calls for a withdrawal timetable come as Democrats step up criticism of President Bush over the government budget deficit of $368 billion, a figure that does not include spending on Iraq.
"That includes very little of the amount of money allocated for Iraq and Afghanistan, and nothing of the $80 billion supplemental which is coming imminently," noted Congressman John Spratt, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
On Monday, a senior U.S. military official said U.S. troop levels in Iraq are expected to remain at least 120,000 for the next two years.
Two former U.S. secretaries of state gave a strong public statement of support Tuesday for the administration position.
Writing in the Washington Post, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz say a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would be almost certain to trigger a civil war in Iraq, and raise the possibility of intervention by Iraq's neighbors.