Bush urged to use Roosevelt-style public presentation on Iraq war
WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sunday suggested that President Bush use an FDR-style presentation to update people on progress in the war in Iraq.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., recalled that during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt often went on the radio in "fireside chats" to explain to the nation in detail the conduct of the war in Europe and Asia.
"I think it would be to Bush's advantage," said Warner, who served in the Navy during the war.
"It would bring him closer to the people, dispel some of this concern that understandably our people have, about the loss of life and limb, the enormous cost of this war to the American public," he said.
Bush plans a speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on the fight against terrorism.
The Senate voted 79-19 on Nov. 15 to urge the Bush administration to explain publicly its strategy for success in Iraq and to provide quarterly reports on policy and military operations. A call for a plan to set a phased withdrawal of troops, which Bush opposes, was dropped from the nonbinding resolution when Republicans and some Democrats objected.
In an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Warner reiterated his opposition to a timetable for troop withdrawal. He sharply disagreed with Delaware Sen. Joe Biden's assertion that the military cannot maintain its baseline troop levels past next year, citing assurances from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace.
Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposes an immediate withdrawal of troops. He did say the Pentagon would have to draw down forces next year, by as much as 50,000, or extend tours, deploy more National Guard members and take other measures.
Warner responded that Pace told him on Saturday that the military will maintain force levels in part by retraining certain segments of the Army and the Guard to perform basic fighting against the insurgents.
"Artillerymen can become infantrymen, artillerymen can become policemen," he said.
Nearly 160,000 U.S. troops are serving in Iraq. The Pentagon has said that level will drop below 140,000 after Iraqi elections on Dec. 15, if they are no longer needed for additional security.
Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said there was a need for more information about policy and success rather than a change in course in Iraq.
"Our committee hopes to provide a whole lot more so the debate might be enlightened," Lugar, R-Ind., told "Fox News Sunday."
"We want to hear from the administration," he said.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who is on the committee, said a public timetable for withdrawal would show the Iraqi people that the U.S. is not set to occupy the country permanently.
"The right thing for the United States right now is to refocus on the fight against terrorism," Feingold said on "This Week" on ABC. "Iraq has ended up being a real distraction. Actually, a problem. I think it's actually made us weaker rather than stronger."
Feingold, considered a presidential hopeful for 2008, voted against giving Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. He said that, unlike his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, he thought the administration was exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
"The Bush administration did a brilliant job, which has continued until today, not in getting us into the war and handling it correctly, but they did a brilliant job of intimidating us into somehow thinking that if we didn't vote for this, we weren't supporting the troops and we were soft on terror," Feingold said.
"I could tell that they were taking every piece of evidence, exaggerating it, pushing everything they could and twisting everything in favor of going into Iraq," he said.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have rejected any suggestion that the administration intentionally misled the public as it made the case for invading Iraq and removing Saddam.