Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a powerful Republican voice on defense issues, is calling on President Bush to send a message of frustration to the Iraqi leadership by bringing some U.S. troops home by Christmas.
Warner, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the latest Iraq Intelligence Estimate — released Thursday — confirmed his own judgment that the Iraqi government is failing to come together and is unable to resolve sectarian differences or control the country.
"I really firmly believe the Iraqi government ... [has] let our troops down," Warner said.
And so the time has come, he said, for President Bush to act. Warner said that when Gen. David Petraeus delivers his progress report in mid-September, Mr. Bush should use the moment to make clear to the Iraqi government that Americans are fed up.
He suggested that the president announce that "in consultation with our senior military commanders, he's decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of armed forces."
"I say to the president respectfully, pick whatever number you wish," Warner said. "Certainly, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year."
Other Republicans have called for troop draw-downs from Iraq, but Warner has special influence on Capitol Hill.
Warner has served in the Navy, the Marines and as Richard Nixon's Navy Secretary. In his 30 years in the U.S. Senate, his voice on foreign policy has carried a certain weight. He was happy to be a cheerleader for President Bush in the early days of the Iraq war — like in 2003, when he found out Saddam Hussein was captured.
"The president's hand has been strengthened and he never flinched from the moment he made the decision to send our troops into harm's way, nor did the troops flinch," he said. "They kept their mission straight going."
As the conflict has worn on, Warner, the longest-serving Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has politely questioned the president's policies. Earlier this year, he wasn't happy when Mr. Bush sent more troops to Iraq. But when Warner went to the podium Thursday on Capitol Hill, it was clear he had an announcement that would represent a serious break from the president.
"I can assure the president that this senator, in this recommendation that I have for him, is not in any way trying to pull the rug out from under the troops," Warner said.
It was no accident Warner brought up the Christmas holiday. Families across the U.S. are longing for their loved ones to be home from Iraq by then. And raising that expectation only puts more pressure on the president to give them their wish.
Warner spoke just days after returning from Iraq. He was there with Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who now heads the Armed Services Committee.
Levin said the visit made clear Nouri al-Maliki should be removed as prime minister. Warner said he wasn't ready to say that much. But Warner did remind reporters that he and Levin released a statement after the trip suggesting that Iraqis have the right to remove their leaders.
Warner met Thursday with presidential advisers at the White House.
Mr. Bush, though, was at his ranch in Texas. A spokesman said the president considers Warner a respected voice. But Mr. Bush is waiting for the Petraeus report before making any decisions about the way ahead in Iraq.
As for Warner, hours after his announcement, he appeared on PBS' News Hour with Jim Lehrer and said he didn't know how the president would respond to his recommendation.
"Now they're perfectly willing to reject it — if that's what they want to do, reject it," he said. "But at least I've spoken out with clarity and cleared my own conscience."