Senators ask Bush to rethink Iraq policies as elections loom

Monday, September 20, 2004

By William C. Mann ~ The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Senators from both parties urged the Bush administration on Sunday to make a realistic assessment of the situation in Iraq and adjust its policies aimed at pacifying the country.

But Bush readied a firm defense of his Iraq policy -- and a sharp new attack on rival John Kerry's stance -- for a speech today.

"The fact is a crisp, sharp analysis of our policies is required. We didn't do that in Vietnam, and we saw 11 years of casualties mount to the point where we finally lost," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran who is co-chairman of President Bush's re-election committee in Nebraska.

"We can't lose this. It is too important," Hagel, R-Neb., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

A major problem, said leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was incompetence by the administration in reconstructing the country's shattered infrastructure.

The chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, noted that Congress appropriated $18.4 billion a year ago this week for reconstruction. No more than $1 billion has been spent. "This is the incompetence in the administration," Lugar, R-Ind., said on ABC's "This Week."

"Exactly right," interjected Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, the committee's top Democrat. He said later: "This has been incompetence so far. Five percent of the $18.4 billion that George Bush keeps ... beating the other candidate up and about the head for how he voted and didn't vote, and he's released 5 percent."

Sen. John McCain, who has campaigned often with the president, said mistakes in Iraq generally can be attributed to inadequate manpower. McCain, R-Ariz., said problems began arising shortly after the dash through the desert to take Baghdad, the capital, in April 2003.

"We made serious mistakes right after the initial successes by not having enough troops on the ground, by allowing the looting, by not securing the borders," McCain said.

"Airstrikes don't do it; artillery doesn't do it. Boots on the ground do it," McCain told "Fox News Sunday."

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Bush had pointed out from the beginning that the risks of combat in Iraq.

"I find it shocking that some people are surprised by the fact that it is a long and difficult conflict," Kyl said.

"What's important is that you have a leader who recognizes that there are difficulties, but who is committed to prevailing; who has a firm idea of what he wants to accomplish, confidence in his commanders in the field, and who doesn't send mixed messages to the troops or to our allies, or most importantly, to our enemies," Kyl said.

Bush planned to use that line of attack against Kerry on Monday, seeking to counter increasingly hard-hitting language the Massachusetts senator has been using on Bush's Iraq policy.

In a speech in New Hampshire, Bush "will step up his critique of John Kerry's policy on Iraq of retreat and defeat," said Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel. "Our troops deserve better than to hear Kerry's campaign pushing pessimism and lack of faith in the mission."

Kerry too was ratcheting up his attacks on Bush and Iraq, in a speech to be delivered at New York University. The Democrat "will lay out his plan for cleaning up the mess George Bush has made in Iraq," said campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Bush's campaign also was airing a new TV commercial promoting his broader anti-terror efforts.

"President Bush and our leaders in Congress have a plan," an announcer says. Among the items listed on the ad are beefing up border and port security, reorganizing the intelligence services, renewing the Patriot Act, and giving the military "all it needs."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., acknowledged that the situation may deteriorate further before it gets better as antidemocratic forces try to prevent democracy from taking hold.

"So this is not a civil war. This is a part of the war on terror, where the terrorists have gone to Iraq, and we need to fight back or we'll lose the region," Graham told CNN's "Late Edition."

McCain was asked about a report in Sunday's New York Times that U.S. commanders were planning a drive in November or December to retake areas where insurgents have won control. Such a timetable would place the operations after the Nov. 2 election for the White House.

McCain said Bush was not being "as straight as we would want him to be" about the situation. "The longer we delay with these sanctuaries, the more difficult the challenge is going to be and the more casualties we will incur and the Iraqi people will suffer because they will be able to operate out of these sanctuaries obviously now with somewhat of impunity," McCain said.

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