Benchmarks and Bickering: Where Are Dems on Iraqi Security?

With the administration's progress report indicating little progress by the Iraqi government and an intelligence assessment judging al Qaeda to be at its strongest operational level since just before 9/11, Senate Democratic leaders Thursday assailed President Bush's strategy in Iraq and pushed for Democratic legislation to withdraw U.S. troops.

But under questioning from ABC News, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to discuss whether the United States had a moral obligation to secure the country for Iraqis or even answer questions as to whether withdrawing troops would make the country safer for the tens of millions of Iraqis who live in the country today.

Nonetheless, the Democrats heralded a U.S. troop withdrawal bill offered by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Carl Levin, D-Mich. Noting that three Republicans have so far committed to voting for the Reed-Levin bill and that others may follow, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said, "The problem is while we're waiting for the Republican senators to build up their political courage, the casualties are building up in Iraq."

Benchmarks Not Met

"The news of this week has proven several things," said Reid. "The report from the president confirmed what many have suspected. The war in Iraq is headed in a dangerous direction and the wrong direction, of course. The Iraqi government has not met a single political benchmark in its entirety ... and these are benchmarks that they set for themselves. Iraqi security forces continue to lag well behind expectations. Our courageous troops continue to bear the full burden of securing and rebuilding Iraq while Iraq's factions fight a deadly civil war that engulfs our own troops."

"Today the White House report is a huge disappointment," added Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "The Iraqi government is clearly not making enough progress. Violence is not going to end in Iraq until the Iraqis themselves take responsibility for their country."

Murray referenced a story in the Tacoma News-Tribune that mentioned a husband and wife about to be redeployed to Iraq for the second time, leaving behind their 4-month-old child.

"There are too many people bearing the burden of the war in Iraq, and there are not enough senators willing to stand up and face this president and say, 'enough is enough.," Murray said.

Al Qaeda Stronger

Reid also said that "new intelligence assessments conclude al Qaeda is growing stronger. But while Osama bin Laden is operating freely, we understand, in the Afghan-Pakistan border, the president wants to keep our troops in an open-ended war, a civil war in Iraq."

Earlier today, President Bush said that "Because of the actions we have taken, al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been."

Reid noted that that contradicts the intelligence report. "They can't have it both ways," he said.

"Now the president has said, 'Well, they're really not as strong,'" said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., "maybe this is just like weapons of mass destruction. ... When the facts are one way and their views are another, they just ignore the facts. And no one disputes that al Qaeda is gaining strength."

Reid also noted that the war was stretching troops dangerously thin. "It's well past time for a change of course in Iraq," Reid said. "The time to do this is now, not in September. We're told ... 'Good progress is being made.' How many times in the last 4½ years have we heard this? Too many to number."

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