Bush administration officials are signaling a possible exit strategy by playing down expectations for a flourishing democracy in Iraq, a leading Democratic lawmaker says.
“They have squandered about every opportunity to get it right,” Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday. “The bottom line is, they are significantly lowering expectations.”
Biden’s comments, on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” came as Iraqi leaders worked to complete a new constitution before Monday’s deadline for parliament to approve the charter.
Biden said he has seen no evidence the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq is losing steam as a political force _ an assertion made recently by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the administration is scaling back some expectations for Iraq, such as the transformation of the country into a model new democracy.
Biden and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it is premature for the United States to begin plans for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
“The day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the Green Zone is the day that I’ll start considering withdrawals from Iraq,” said McCain, referring to the heavily fortified area where U.S. and Iraqi government headquarters are located.
“We not only don’t need to withdraw, we need more troops there,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said it was possible that the United States would put more troops on the ground in Iraq ahead of another round of elections there in December.
He also predicted that Iraqis would complete a constitution by Monday’s deadline.
“The Iraqis tell me that they can finish it and they will finish it tomorrow,” Khalilzad said during a string of appearances on Sunday TV talk shows. “There are options, obviously, should they need it, but at this point, my information is _ and I’ve just come from a meeting with the Iraqi leaders _that they intend to finish it tomorrow.”
McCain said all Iraqis have a vested interest in the outcome of the draft negotiations.
“I think it’s very important that it not be a perfect constitution, but it certainly be one that protects the rights of all minorities and all ethnic groups in Iraq,” he said.
But in Baghdad, leaders of Iraq’s various factions considered extending Monday’s deadline as officials struggled to agree on a federated state and resolve a host of other issues.
Early Monday, Shiite and Kurdish leaders signaled they were prepared to submit the draft to parliament Monday evening _ even if they had to do so over Sunni Arab objections. That risked a backlash among Sunni Arabs, who form the core of the insurgency, which could undermine the American goal of using the constitution to lure Sunnis away from the insurgency.
To battle the insurgents, Khalilzad said Baghdad needs to do more to encourage neighboring Iran and Syria to prevent foreign terrorists from crossing into Iraq.
“The neighbors can make it harder. It can take longer. But success is inevitable,” Khalilzad said. “This country has the resources to become a very rich and powerful country. It behooves the neighbors of Iraq to help.”
Since the war started in March 2003, more than 1,800 members of the U.S. military have died. The United States has 138,000 troops in Iraq, and military officials had recently discussed “fairly substantial reductions” in forces early next year, if the situation on the ground stabilized.
But Bush last week dismissed talk of troop cuts or increases as “speculation and rumors.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said the administration needs a plan.
“Some of the generals have said we can withdraw some of the troops … We have others saying we’re not going to leave. These people do not know what they are doing,” Dean said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”