Senator Olympia Snowe Second Republican To Back Troop Withdrawal Bill

Wednesday, July 11th 2007, 6:49 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Olympia Snowe on Wednesday became the second Republican to embrace a bill ordering troops out of Iraq as President Bush's national security adviser tried to stop defections from the White House war policy.

Snowe, R-Maine, joined Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in co-sponsoring a bill that would require troops to start leaving in 120 days. The bill also would end combat by April 30, 2008.

Snowe's endorsement is a shift for the senator, who in recent months opposed a similar measure. Snowe had said earlier that she'd been considering signing on to the measure because the situation in Iraq was growing worse.

``Frankly, given the fact that the Iraqi government isn't prepared to change its own political direction, we should be prepared to change course with resepect to our strategy,'' Snowe told reporters Tuesday.

While other Republicans were expected to oppose the firm timetable on troop withdrawals, more and more GOP members are calling for the U.S. to end combat next year.

At least 10 Republicans in recent weeks have said the U.S. should start reducing the military's role in Iraq, with the latest challenge to the president's Iraq strategy coming Tuesday from Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

``Simply put, our troops have been doing a great job, but the Iraqi government has not,'' Dole, R-N.C., said. ``Our commitment in Iraq is not indefinite, nor should the Iraqi government perceive it to be. It is my firm hope and belief that we can start bringing our troops home in 2008.''

Accordingly, the White House this week revived its outreach effort to members, including Wednesday's visit by Bush's top national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who met with more than a dozen senators.

The visit came as the White House finalized a 23-page progress report on Iraq that concludes the government in Baghdad has made little progress in meeting reform goals laid down by Bush and Congress.

Earlier this year, Congress passed a 2007 war spending bill that identified 18 benchmarks for political, security and economic reforms. The list was based on promises made by the Iraqi government when Bush decided to send in 30,000 additional U.S. troops.

The legislation required Bush to certify by July 15 and again on Sept. 15 that Baghdad was making significant strides in meeting the benchmarks. If he cannot, U.S. aid dollars must be cut, according to the law.

The law allows Bush to waive the requirement to cut funding.

Based on that list, the administration is likely to argue some progress has been made in reducing the level of sectarian violence and militia control. Iraq also has established several, but not all, of the needed joint neighborhood security stations in Baghdad, as well as increased the number of capable Iraqi security units.

But the report also is expected to concede that several major goals have not been met: Iraqi laws to allocate oil and gas resources and revenue, and to address amnesty for former Baath Party members. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the report will indicate whether there has been ``progress at a satisfactory rate, or unsatisfactory rate, and in some cases maybe mixed results on some of those benchmarks.''

Bush is not expected to withhold aid from the Iraqis.

Bush said Tuesday he would veto any legislation setting a deadline on troop withdrawals. He also said he would not rethink his military strategy until at least September, when the top military commander delivers a progress report on the troop buildup.

``That's what the American people expect. They expect for military people to come back and tell us how the military operations are going,'' Bush said. ``And that's the way I'm going to play it as commander in chief.''