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US Democrats Vow to Keep Pressure on President Over Iraq


Democrats in Congress backed down this week from their long-standing demand to set a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In the short term, the decision is a political setback for Democrats and a victory for President Bush and his Republican supporters in Congress. But the long-term impact of the Iraq war on U.S. politics remains very unpredictable, as we hear from VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone.

The Democrats gave up on their attempt to include a troop withdrawal deadline in a military spending bill, after it became clear they simply could not muster enough support to withstand another presidential veto.

President Bush made a fresh appeal for support on his Iraq strategy during a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.

"Al-Qaida is public enemy number one for Iraq's young democracy. Al-Qaida is public enemy number one for America as well, and that is why we must support our troops, we must support the Iraqi government and we must defeat al-Qaida in Iraq," Mr. Bush said.

Democrats are disappointed they had to drop their demand for a troop withdrawal deadline, something they promised their supporters after winning back control of both houses of Congress in last November's midterm congressional elections.

But Democrats also believe they won a partial victory by insisting on the inclusion of political benchmarks in the spending bill that the Iraqi government must meet or risk losing some U.S. reconstruction aid.

"It ends the blank check on more troops, more money, more time and more of the same and it begins the notion that we have to have a new direction to Iraq," said Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

Democrats in Congress vowed to keep the pressure on the Bush administration in the months ahead. But some of the Democratic presidential contenders said their Democratic colleagues in Congress gave up on the troop withdrawal deadline too quickly.

Former senator and now Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards favors a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq within one year. He was interviewed on NBC's Today program.

"The Democrats should be standing their ground," said Edwards. "I mean, the American people said very clearly in the last election that they wanted to see a different course in Iraq."

Even some Republicans acknowledge the president's victory on resisting a troop withdrawal deadline mandated by Congress may be short-lived.

Lawmakers from both parties said they will pay close attention to an administration status report on Iraq in September to see if the troop surge is working.

Among them is Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, who had a message for the Iraqi government.

"We are not there forever. We are there to help you so long as you, as a sovereign nation, pull your own weight and do your responsible job," he said.

Political experts say Democrats backed down on the troop withdrawal deadline, in part, because they did not want to be portrayed by Republicans as withholding support for U.S. troops in the field.

"Allegedly, Democrats are soft on national security. So I think a lot of Democrats, especially older Democrats in Congress, worry about being tagged yet again with being soft on America [security], soft on the Pentagon, soft on doing the right thing," said Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News.

But analysts also warn that Republicans are likely to pay a political price if the war and resulting U.S. casualties carry into the 2008 presidential election year.

Congressional Quarterly expert Craig Crawford says public dissatisfaction with the president's handling of Iraq has eroded the Republican Party's traditional political advantage on national security issues.

"I think Republicans have lost their competency lead in managing national security. And this is a change. Ever since the Vietnam war, Democrats have lost that edge on national security and defense that I think they are able to regain, somewhat by default, because the Iraq war seems so incompetent," he said.

Some Republican political strategists are worried that Iraq will hurt them, not only in the presidential campaign next year, but their efforts to win back control of Congress as well.

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