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Bush Should Clarify His Iraq Plans, Senators Say

The president is urged to 'take charge' and not let his advisors' infighting muddy the message.

October 13, 2003|Aaron Zitner | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush has allowed too much infighting among his senior advisors, damaging his ability to present a clear picture of his plans for postwar Iraq, the top Republican and the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee both said Sunday.

"Mr. President, take charge. Take charge. Settle this dispute," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he would advise Bush if asked. "He has got to take charge and tell the American people ... what is [the] plan and how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for it."

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the Foreign Relations Committee's chairman, agreed that such advice "was very necessary."

"The president has to be the president," he said. "And that means president over the vice president and over the secretaries."

The comments, on NBC's "Meet the Press," referred to reports of long-running tensions between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who advised building international support for confronting and reconstituting Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has taken a tougher, unilateralist line.

Last week, the White House said the National Security Council would be taking greater responsibility for Iraqi reconstruction. Some observers saw that as a slap at Rumsfeld and the Defense Department, which has had the primary responsibility so far for rebuilding efforts.

The internal tensions could become an issue this week as the Senate takes up Bush's request for $87 billion for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. The request has drawn complaints from some lawmakers that the administration should do more to win donations from other countries, and that it has not laid out a clear plan for the U.S. role in Iraq and a political transition to Iraqi rule.

"There is no clear articulation within this administration of what the goals, what the message is, what the plan is," Biden said. "You have this significant division within the administration between the Powells and the Rumsfelds."

Lugar said that Bush, Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice had all recently given speeches on Iraq and that "the tone in all of those was distinctly different." While Cheney's speech "was very, very tough and strident," Lugar said, Powell was "once again emphasizing international concerns, as opposed to our dominance" in managing postwar Iraq.

Lugar predicted that U.S. forces might have to be in Iraq for eight more years, and that rebuilding the country might cost $50 billion or more. Bush's request to Congress includes about $20 billion for reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, with $66 billion going to military operations in the countries.

Democrats used the Sunday talk shows to repeat their contention that the Bush administration overstated the evidence of Iraqi weapons to build support for the war. They also said the administration was bungling the rebuilding effort.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a candidate for his party's presidential nomination, said that Cheney "should be apologizing ... for having misled America, for not having kept his promises of working adequately within the international community, not having built a legitimate international coalition [and] not having exhausted the process of the inspections" by United Nations weapons experts in Iraq.

"This is haphazard, shotgun, shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy, and I think it's causing us great risk," Kerry said on ABC's "This Week."

While the war to depose Saddam Hussein was necessary, Biden said, "I just did not count on the fact that [the postwar situation] would be handled ... with such a degree of incompetence subsequent to the 'military victory.' "

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) added: "What we have not done is prosecuted the postwar era with any skill at all."

On "Fox News Sunday," Rockefeller said that "the threat of terrorism and Al Qaeda and terrorists from across the world is much greater today than it was when we went to war."

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countered by saying, "What you're missing is all the good things that are happening" in Iraq. "The 60,000-Iraqi army that's up and growing, the 1,300 schools that have been refurbished, 13,000 construction projects that have gone on ... and most of the country is rather calm. Great progress is being made every day."

Both Rockefeller, who is the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and McConnell, who returned from Iraq on Saturday night, said Bush's request for Iraq would probably pass.

"We don't have the $87 billion that the president needs now," Rockefeller said. "We're probably going to have to borrow it, and we'll probably end up giving it to him, but the American people are going to be very resentful about that."

McConnell predicted defeat for efforts in the Senate to give the aid in the form of a loan or loan guarantee, backed by Iraq's future oil revenue, rather than as an outright grant.

"I think it's going to be a close vote, but I think the grant proposal's going to win," McConnell said. He said that "turning it into a loan ... plays into the hands of those who suggest that we went into Iraq to get their oil, to encumber their future."

McConnell said he knew two senators, whom he would not name, who had opposed an outright grant to Iraq but changed their minds after visiting the country last week.

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