U.S. Congressional Democrats say President Bush's policy on Iraq is in disarray. They renewed their calls on the administration to set a timetable to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Although President Bush has abandoned the phrase "stay the course" to describe U.S. policy on Iraq - emphasizing instead flexibility in the effort to secure a stable Iraq - opposition Democrats in Congress say nothing has really changed with the administration's approach.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke to reporters in a conference call. "The White House may be changing its rhetoric about staying the course, saying they are not going to use that term anymore. They have dropped the rhetoric, but the policies are the same - the same failed stay the course policies were reiterated by the President this morning," he said.
In a written statement, the Senate's top Democrat, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, said the administration's Iraq policy, like Iraq itself "is in disarray." He said it is increasingly clear that the president does not know what to do to stop the violence.
The Senate Democrats were reacting to Mr. Bush's news conference Wednesday, when the president underscored his determination to see the U.S. effort in Iraq to a successful conclusion.
The president said he does not have unlimited patience with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but he emphasized the importance of setting benchmarks, or goals, and striving to meet them.
But Senator Levin said setting benchmarks without pressing the Iraqi government to meet them will not result in success. "Saying that we are going to set some timelines without real pressure on the Iraqis to meet those timelines, is simply more of the same stay-the-course policies that we have seen from this administration for the last three years," he said.
Although Mr. Bush rejected timetables for a withdrawal of U.S. troops, Senator Levin said setting a date to begin a troop pullout would be the only way to pressure the Iraqi government to make the necessary political compromises that are essential to creating a stable Iraq.
At a speech in Washington, Senator Elizabeth Dole, a Republican from North Carolina and chairman of the committee tasked with helping Republicans win seats in the Senate in the November 7 midterm elections, reiterated her opposition to setting timelines for troop withdrawals from Iraq. "It is vital to complete this mission in terms of our national security, ladies and gentlemen, and for the future stability of the Middle East, and indeed, the world," he said.
Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of President Bush's handling of Iraq. Democrats hope voter sentiment on Iraq will translate into Republican losses in the November 7 elections, possibly resulting in Democrats taking control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.