Jan. 5, 2007 -- The new Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill called on President Bush today to abandon plans for a surge of new troops in Iraq, a plan the White House is expected to announce later this month.
Calling the conflict in Iraq a civil war, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged Bush to begin a phased "redeployment" of American troops out of Iraq over the next few months. They rejected the administration's reported plans to add as many as 20,000 more troops to quell violence in Baghdad and elsewhere.
"We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future, but like many of our senior military leaders, we do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success," Pelosi said in a joint letter to Bush, dated Friday. "Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain."
The Democratic leaders said they believed the solution to the Iraq conflict is political rather than military.
Key Republicans also worry about a troop surge. "I must say I'm concerned," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va.. "But we should give the president the option to make known his case."
Bush is expected to outline a new strategy as early as next week, ahead of his Jan. 23 State of the Union address.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president would consider the advice of Pelosi and Reid.
"That's precisely the kind of dialogue the president would love to have. … When you say we want to do anything we can, what is that and how do you define it as success? And those are the kinds of conversations that are going on," Snow said. "So the approach that we have taken -- and there will be opportunities for Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid to speak with the president on this -- is … the president will listen. And … one of the things we'll do is welcome them to offer their suggestions."
The plan to add new troops has some high-profile supporters, including retired Gen. Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. Both Keane, an ABC News consultant and former Army vice chief of staff, and Kagan, a military analyst, have advised the White House in recent months.
Kagan said securing Baghdad will take up most of 2007, and he expects 2007 to be "a very bloody year."
"When you say, as the Iraqi Study Group said, that what we really need to do is just strengthen the Iraqi security forces so they can handle the problem, when you make that decision, you're choosing to lose," Keane said. "Because the Iraqi security forces are not capable of doing that now and they will not be capable of doing it in the near term.
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group urged the president to reject calls for a surge and withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by early 2008.
Keane and Kagan, who spoke at a forum held by the American Enterprise Institute today, have advised the Bush administration that a surge would work only if it included at least 35,000 troops and lasted well into 2008.
"Those who would suggest that we can surge an operation for three to six months -- makes no military sense to me whatsoever, because of what the enemy will do," Keane said. "So the operation has to be long enough to change the attitudes of the people in those neighborhoods to convince them that they're doing it."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., also back calls for a surge of new troops in Iraq.
"I believe that the war is still winnable. But to prevail, we'll need to do everything right, and the Iraqis will have to do their part," said McCain, a potential 2008 presidential candidate. "There are two keys to any surge of U.S. troops. To be of value, the surge must be substantial and it must be sustained -- we will need a large number of troops. "
McCain added a dire warning on casualties.
"I want to be clear -- and I mean this with all sincerity -- strategy will mean more casualties and extra hardships for our brave fighting men and women, and the violence may get worse before it gets better. We have to be prepared for this," he said.
Administration officials delayed a White House briefing as they prepared to confirm reports of a new team of commanders for the war in Iraq. ABC has learned that Adm. William Fallon, now head of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, will replace Gen. John Abizaid, who, as head of the U.S. Central Command, is directing the war in Iraq.
The U.S. Pacific Command confirmed Fallon's move to what military officials call CentCom.
"I am grateful for Secretary Gates' trust and confidence, and look forward to the nomination and confirmation processes," Fallon said in a statement. "In the meantime, I remain focused on my duties at Pacific Command."
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will succeed Gen. William Casey, the top ground commander in Iraq.
Petraeus is an Iraq War veteran, who joined the initial invasion as the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division and returned for a second tour of duty as the top trainer of Iraqi forces. Choosing Fallon is considered unusual because it puts a Navy commander in charge of two ground wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon has visited both war zones and has had forces deployed in both wars, though both war zones are outside the Pacific Command's control.
He said U.S. conduct of the war has included "many mistakes" and called success "still possible, but it will be very difficult."
Lieberman offered support to the president.
"The president of the United States gets this," he said. "I think he sees the moment that we are at in the larger war on terrorism and the significance of how we conclude the war in Iraq; how devastating it would be to the Iraqis, to the Middle East, to America."