Next 4 months crucial in bringing troops home from Iraq
President Bush said he is willing to work with Congress to include benchmarks for the performance of the Iraqi government in a war spending bill.
RESPONDING to pressure from all directions, President Bush now says that the idea of benchmarks aimed at ending large American military presence in Iraq "makes sense." Bush has rejected a military spending bill that contained a timetable for troop withdrawal. Fortunately, he understands that he must reach a compromise with the Democratic Congress to achieve public support.
In rapid succession this week, encouraging signs emerged that the president is taking notice that he no longer can dismiss calls for ending the prolongation of a war that has been shown to be ill-founded.
» A group of moderate Republicans met privately with the president and warned him that conditions need to improve significantly or more Republicans will desert him on Iraq. "The American people want to know that there's a way out," Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said afterward.
» Vice President Dick Cheney engaged in 12 hours of meetings with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. Cheney said he told them the importance of movement "in a timely fashion" and "with all deliberate dispatch."
» A majority of Iraqi legislators endorsed a draft bill calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops and a freeze on the number already in the country.
Bush vowed to veto a bill that would provide "piecemeal funding" for troops in Iraq. However, he said he has assigned his chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, to "find common ground on benchmarks" for the Iraq government to continue receiving U.S. support.
Bush mentioned Maliki-promised benchmarks that consist of Iraqi legislation to share oil revenues, division of power in Iraq and the opening of some government jobs to former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Maliki's timetable for reaching those milestones already has elapsed.
September, the last month of the fiscal year, is emerging as the U.S. benchmark. By that time, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, has said he will be able to assess the results of current U.S. troop increases in Iraq.
"General Petraeus picked this date," Bush said this week. "He believes that there will be enough progress one way or the other to be able to report to the American people, to give an objective assessment about what he sees regarding the Baghdad security plan."
By that time, the Iraqi government will have control of the Army and the provinces, according to Maliki's own timetable.