WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Democratic-controlled Congress not to interfere in the conduct of the Iraq war and suggested President Bush would defy troop withdrawal legislation.
But Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers would step up efforts to force Bush to change course. ``The president needs a check and a balance,'' said Levin, D-Mich.
Rice said proposals being drafted by Senate Democrats to limit the war amounted to ``the worst of micromanagement of military affairs.'' She said military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, believe the president's plan to send more troops is necessary.
``I can't imagine a circumstance in which it's a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress,'' Rice said. She was asked in a broadcast interview whether Bush would feel bound by legislation seeking to withdraw combat troops within 120 days.
``The president is going to, as commander in chief, need to do what the country needs done,'' she said.
The Senate Democrats' legislation would try to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq by revoking Congress' 2002 vote authorizing Bush's use of force against Saddam Hussein.
One draft version supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would pull out combat forces by March of next year and restrict U.S. troops to fighting al-Qaida terrorists, training the Iraqi security forces and maintaining Iraq's borders.
Democrats have acknowledged that the proposal does not yet have enough votes to overcome GOP procedural obstacles and a veto by Bush. But they are hoping the latest effort will draw enough GOP support to embarrass the president and keep the pressure on.
Levin said it was appropriate for lawmakers to limit the broad wording of the 2002 war resolution given how the situation in Iraq has deteriorated.
``This is not a surge so much as it is a plunge into Baghdad and into the middle of a civil war,'' he said. ``We're trying to change the policy, and if someone wants to call that tying the hands instead of changing the policy, yeah the president needs a check and a balance.''
Sensitive to wavering Republicans, Rice made clear that Bush had no intention of backing away from plans to send 21,500 more combat troops to Iraq. While the U.S. role has changed since its overthrow of Saddam, the United States is obligated to see the mission through by working to build a stable and democratic Iraq, she said.
Rice said it is impossible to distinguish what is going on in Iraq from the larger fight against al-Qaida.
``Some of these car bombs may indeed be the work of an organization like al-Qaida,'' she said of the violence that continues to rock Baghdad.
``I would hope that Congress would recognize that it's very important for them to have the oversight role,'' Rice said. ``But when it comes to the execution of policy in the field, there has to be a clear relationship between the commander in chief and the commanders in the field.''
Senate Republicans recently thwarted two Democratic attempts to pass a nonbinding resolution critical of Bush's troop plan.
In the House, a nonbinding anti-war measure was approved this month. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she expects the next challenge might be to impose money restrictions and a requirement that the Pentagon adhere to strict readiness standards for troops heading to the war zone.
But that plan has drawn only lukewarm support from Democrats in the Senate and some in the House, who believe it is a politically risky strategy that could be seen as an unconstitutional micromanaging of a president's power to wage war.
``We're going to fund the troops as long as they're there,'' Levin said.