(CNSNews.com) - With the war in Iraq dominating the 2008 political campaign, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi framed the debate this way on Thursday: "The choice is between a Democratic plan for responsible redeployment and the President's plan for a 10-year war in Iraq," she said in a news release.
Pelosi is among the many Democratic leaders who are blasting President Bush's plan to start withdrawing a relatively small number of U.S. troops from Iraq.
But in his speech to the nation Thursday night, President Bush stressed "success" in Iraq as the criterion for deciding when the bulk of U.S. troops can come home.
President Bush said he has accepted Gen. David Petraeus' belief that "we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces."
He said he will go along with Gen. Petraeus' recommendation to make a total force reduction of 5,700 troops by Christmas; and -- depending on continued success in Iraq -- a reduction of 20 combat brigades to 15 by July (about 21,500 troops).
Critics complain that the force reduction will leave 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq -- the pre-surge level.
President Bush also mentioned the "next phase" of U.S. strategy in Iraq: "Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces. As this transition in our mission takes place, our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks, including counterterrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces."
He also said U.S. troops eventually will focus on hunting down al Qaeda terrorists.
'Status quo strategy'
No one expected Democrats to like what the president said, and they didn't. But it appears that Democrats don't have enough votes to force their troop-deployment-now wishes on the president.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the president's plan as a "status quo strategy that leaves at least 130,000 American soldiers in harm's way as part of a 10-year occupation of Iraq."
She said the American people would reject any plan that leaves U.S. troops "in the middle of a deadly civil war" for years to come.
She also said President Bush failed to answer key questions about how his plan to leave 130,000 soldiers in Iraq would strengthen the military or make Americans safer -- or how he plans to pay for the continuing troop presence in Iraq.
"In the fifth year of war, after more than 3,700 brave Americans have lost their lives, it is unconscionable to ask additional sacrifices of our military while Iraqi politicians refuse to make the political progress necessary to end sectarian violence," Pelosi said.
Even before President Bush delivered his speech, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, criticized him for offering "a war without end."
Dean called President Bush's speech a PR stunt intended to buy more time for a "stay-the-course strategy that has not worked." Dean said "brave" U.S. troops cannot solve Iraq's political problems.
And he said those troops are "hostage" to the Bush administration's failure to "present a thoughtful plan to bring them home."
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) delivered the official Democratic response to President Bush's speech, saying the Bush plan does not amount to real change.
"An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option," Reed said. It's time to "redefine" the mission in Iraq and "change course," he added.
Reed said Democrats have a plan "to responsibly and rapidly begin a reduction of our troops. Our proposal can not erase the mistakes of the last four and a half years, but we can chart a better way forward."
He also said the Democrat plan focuses on diplomacy as a means of resolving the conflict in Iraq and the wider region.
What about success?
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said President Bush is doing exactly what Democrats have demanded -- he's listening to the generals.
And Boehner praised General Petraeus for outlining a strategy that will bring troops home "after success, not failure."
Congress faces a "stark choice," Boehner said: "either rally behind the proven, responsible strategy set forth by General Petraeus and bring our troops home after victory, or demand an irresponsible, precipitous withdrawal that will force our troops to leave in defeat."
Bush, Boehner and other Republicans insist that success must be the overriding consideration in any troop deployment plan.
For the record, neither Pelosi nor Dean mentioned the word "success" in their comments on President Bush's war strategy. Sen. Reed used the word once in his Democratic response to the president, but only to criticize Bush for failing to come up with a plan to "successfully end the war."
President Bush used the word "success" ten times in his Thursday night speech.
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