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Key Democrat Calls on Bush to Change Course in Iraq

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is calling on President Bush to change course in Iraq or risk failure that could harm U.S. national security. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware delivered a speech in Washington two days after he announced his intention to run for president in 2008.

Citing public opinion polls showing Americans' support for the U.S. role in Iraq waning, Senator Biden accused President Bush of making misleading statements and premature declarations of victory about Iraq as the costs of American involvement in that country continue to rise in lives and dollars.

"The disconnect between the administration's rhetoric and the reality on the ground has opened not just a credibility gap, but a credibility chasm," Mr. Biden says. "Standing right in the middle of that chasm are 139,000 American troops, some on their third tours."

Mr. Biden called on Mr. Bush to change policy toward Iraq, but warned against withdrawing U.S. troops, saying that would open the door to terrorists to create a haven there and would undermine moderates in the region, as well as damage U.S. credibility and national security interests.

He called on the president to tell the American people what the stakes are in Iraq, what the U.S. goals are and how he plans to achieve there.

"The administration should develop with congress clear benchmarks and goals in key areas: security, governance and politics, reconstruction and burden-sharing," Mr. Biden says. "We in congress, in my view, should aggressively assert our oversight responsibility by insisting that the administration report on progress toward these goals every month in public testimony."

Mr. Bush does plan to address the issue in the coming days.

Senator Biden, who returned from his fifth visit to Iraq earlier this month, also called on the administration to press allies to get more involved in security and reconstruction efforts.

He urged U.S. officials who will take part in an international conference on Iraq in Brussels Wednesday to propose the creation of a contact group to help generate assistance, provide political advice and discourage destabilizing actions from countries such as Iran and Syria.

"This will give other countries a mechanism to act in their own self-interest and justify a more activist assistance program to their skeptical publics," Mr. Biden says. "And just as important, it will provide a useful tool of influence on political leaders in Iraq, who need an excuse, the excuse of international pressure to justify very difficult decisions they have to take within their constituency."

Mr. Biden has offered similar proposals in the past. Although the senator prefaced his remarks Tuesday by saying they were not meant to be political, the speech received a good deal of attention because of his announcement this week to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2008.