Political Jockeying Begins Before Petraeus Hill Date

Posted April 4, 2008 at 3:38pm

House and Senate Democratic leaders on Friday sent a letter to President Bush urging his support for a four-pronged strategy for changing course in Iraq.

“We are deeply concerned that you and the Congressional Republican leadership are intent on staying the current course throughout your administration and then handing the Iraq war off to future presidents,” reads the letter signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with 14 top Congressional Democrats.

“Indeed, some in your party have indicated we should be prepared to stay in Iraq for 50 or even 100 years,” they wrote, a thinly-veiled reference to past remarks by GOP presidential candidate and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The letter comes in advance of next week’s Congressional testimony from Army Gen. David Petraeus and from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

The senior Democrats called on Bush to make four key changes to the current Iraq strategy: Seek political reconciliation among Iraqi leaders, restore the readiness of “our badly strained” military by returning to 12-month deployments, dedicate more resources to fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and address security challenges elsewhere in the region, such as in Iran.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) chalked up the letter as an attempt among Democrats to appeal to left-wing net-roots activists at MoveOn.Org.

“While Democrats are divided on how best to assuage MoveOn, the military has described the safe way to return troops to the U.S. without abandoning an ally or our regional interests,” he said in a statement. “Ambassador Crocker and Gen. Petraeus will be here next week. … We should allow them to speak.”

Earlier, Pelosi said that one thing she does not want to hear during the Petraeus hearings “is any glorification of what happened in Basra,” referring to a recent military offensive against Shiite militants by U.S.-Iraqi forces.

The Speaker warned Petraeus against presenting the incident as Iraqi forces going in and getting the job done. She noted U.S. forces were only informed about the engagement 48 hours in advance, and “it wasn’t until the U.S. came in to help that the resolution came about.”

Military officials should “not put a shine on events” during the April 8 and 9 hearings, Pelosi said.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said he expects Petraeus to outline “a long-term, but steadily diminishing, presence in Iraq, as more troops begin coming out than going in.”

Alexander signaled that he will make the point that it is time for an Iraqi-led political and diplomatic surge. “Let the Iraqis do more to reconcile their political differences, pay more of their own bills, and persuade their neighbors to locate embassies in Baghdad,” he said.