JOHN YDSTIE, host:
One key Republican senator who has read the National Intelligence Report says he's seen enough. Senator John Warner of Virginia says the report confirms his own judgment that the Iraqi government is failing to come together, unable to resolve sectarian differences, and unable to control the country. Warner called on President Bush to send a powerful message of frustration to the Iraqi leadership by beginning to bring U.S. troops home.
Other Republicans have called for troop drawdowns from Iraq, but Warner has special influence on Capitol Hill, as NPR's David Greene reports.
DAVID GREENE: John Warner had served in the Navy, the Marines, and as Richard Nixon's Navy secretary. So, 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. That morning, he got on a phone with NPR.
(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): 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. They kept their mission straight going.
GREENE: 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 came to a podium on Capitol Hill yesterday, it was clear he had an announcement that would represent a serious break from the president.
Sen. WARNER: And 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, troops that I've had an association with, privileged and learned from over half a century of my life.
GREENE: Warner said Americans have been fighting in Iraq to create a window for Iraqi leaders to solve their differences, but he said...
Sen. WARNER: I really firmly believe the Iraqi government under the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki have let our troops down.
GREENE: And so the time has come, he said, for President Bush to act. Warner said that when General 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.
Sen. WARNER: I think no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th that in consultation with our senior military commanders he's decided to initiate the first step in the withdrawal of our forces. I say to the president respectfully, pick whatever number you wish.
You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly in a 160,000-plus, say 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.
GREENE: 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 Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Levin said the visit made clear 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.
Sen. WARNER: No disrespect to my colleague Senator Levin, but I decided not to go as far as he had. But I did say just draw the attention on the last paragraph, the provisions in their own constitution by which the people of Iraq through their elected representatives can make changes in their government. That's all.
GREENE: Warner met yesterday 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 "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and said he didn't know what Mr. Bush would do with his recommendation.
Sen. WARNER: Now, they're perfectly willing to reject it. If that's what they want to do, reject it. But at least I have spoken out with clarity and cleared my own conscience.
GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.