Democrats Show No Interest in Compromise
President Bush issued something of a Rodney King plea in his national address on Thursday night: Now that we are seeing success in Iraq, and troops will start coming home, can't we all just get along?
"The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together," Bush said in his prime-time speech.
But with the Democratic presidential candidates fresh off a week of maneuvering over the war in Congress and on the campaign trail, their responses were not exactly conciliatory.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first to issue a statement, moments after the president's 20-minute prime-time broadcast faded to black. "Regrettably, the President did not seize the opportunity tonight to offer the American people a candid assessment of the challenges that we continue to face in Iraq, or offer a change in course to his failing strategy," Clinton said.
The Democratic candidates are largely in agreement on several points: that the president is taking credit for a troop drawdown that would have begun anyway; that the withdrawal should have begun earlier, and needs to begin more quickly now; and that there should be a hard end date for the combat presence on the ground in Iraq. Otherwise the distinctions about the road ahead are mainly rhetorical. Former Sen. John Edwards has made his crusade the ineffectiveness of Capitol Hill, demanding Congress cut off funding for the war. Only Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has been adamant about immediate withdrawal of all troops. (Below are some excerpts from their statements last night).
Candidate objections notwithstanding, what will actually happen next depends on Congress, where the Democratic leadership is deciding how far to go to reach a compromise that Republicans can sign onto placing limitations on the war and beginning to bring troops home. In the past, Clinton, Obama and Dodd have voted for a hard exit deadline, and would likely do so again. But as Sen. Jack Reed made clear in his rebuttal remarks last night, Democrats are determined to do one thing for sure: keep putting pressure on Bush.
"Democrats believe it is time to change course," Reed said.
-- From New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: "As of next summer, the president plans to have 130,000 troops in the midst of a civil war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards would leave between 60,000 and 90,000 troops in Iraq with no timetable for a full withdrawal. All of these plans are unacceptable. We must get all of our troops out of Iraq in six to eight months."
-- From Sen. Barack Obama: "It is long past time to end a war that never should have started. President Bush was wrong when he took us to war, he was wrong when he escalated this war in January, and he is wrong to stay the course now. That is why I have proposed an immediate and sustained removal of one to two combat brigades each month to conclude by the end of next year."
-- From former Sen. John Edwards, who bought airtime on MSNBC to respond: "Our troops are stuck between a president without a plan to succeed and a Congress without the courage to bring them home. But Congress must answer to the American people. Tell Congress you know the truth -- they have the power to end this war and you expect them to use it. When the president asks for more money and more time, Congress needs to tell him he only gets one choice: a firm timeline for withdrawal."
-- From Sen. Clinton: "What the president told the American people tonight is that one year from now, there will be the same number of troops in Iraq as there were one year ago. That is simply too little too late, and unacceptable to this Congress and the American people who have made clear their strong desire to bring our brave troops home."
--Anne E. Kornblut
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