(CNSNews.com) - Look for Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to appear on the Sunday newsmaker shows, now that he's joined leading Democrats in calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
In January, Warner co-sponsored a resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge plan, but this is the first time he's called for U.S. troops to start coming home by a certain date.
On Thursday, Warner suggested pulling 5,000 troops out of the country by Christmas. He said it would send a message to Iraq's political leaders, whom he has criticized for not doing enough to move the country forward.
(The network news outlets made much of Warner's comments Thursday evening: It's "very big," said NBC's Tim Russert, after NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams compared Warner's defection to President Lyndon Johnson losing Walter Cronkite's support for the Vietnam War.)
Warner, who has just returned from a trip to Iraq, said he believes the U.S. troop surge is having "measurable results," but he said Iraqi politicians are not taking advantage of the time the surge is giving them to make political compromises.
"In many meetings with Iraqi political leaders, of all different backgrounds, we told them of the deep impatience of the American people and the Congress with the lack of political progress, impressed upon them that time has run out in that regard, and told them of the urgent need to make the essential compromises," Warner said of his latest trip to Iraq.
"In all of our meetings we witnessed a great deal of apprehension regarding the capabilities of the current Iraqi government to shed its sectarian biases and act in a unifying manner."
At a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, Warner -- a former Navy secretary and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- called for an "orderly and carefully planned withdrawal," to be announced by Sept. 15.
It would be a symbolic gesture, he said, aimed at sending a message to Iraqi leaders: "I say to the president respectfully, 'Pick whatever number you wish.' . . . Say, 5,000 [troops] could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year. That's the first step."
Thanks, but no thanks
"Well, I think that we appreciate Senator Warner's comments," White House Deputy Spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters on Thursday. "But we will wait until Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus return from Baghdad and make their report," he added.
Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will presents a progress report on the Iraq war to Congress and the president in mid-September, as required by law; and President Bush has said if any "course corrections" are necessary, they'll be made after that.
President Bush has so far refused to consider a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal, saying it would send the wrong message to America's enemies.
And this week, the president said any move to change Iraq political leadership must come from the Iraqi people, not politicians in Washington.
A summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate -- released Thursday - says the "level of overall violence in Iraq remains high," and although security will continue to "improve modestly during the next six to 12 months," the Iraqi government will continue struggling to achieve political unity.
According to the NIE -- which offers the collective analysis of the nation's 16 intelligence agencies -- "Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively."
The Sunni Arabs still don't support the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government; and the U.S. intelligence community believes the Iraqi government "will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months" as internal criticism mounts.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the NIE offers further proof that the U.S. military is doing its job "excellently," while the Iraqi government "has failed to take the necessary steps to reach political reconciliation."
Pelosi again called for a "new direction" to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq - "so that America can refocus its efforts against terrorism worldwide."
While Pelosi viewed the NIE as a grim assessment, the White House described it as a mixed bag:
"The National Intelligence Estimate's updated judgments show that our strategy has improved the security environment in Iraq, but that we still face very tough challenges ahead," said White House spokesman Johndroe.
"While the February NIE concluded that conditions in Iraq were worsening, today's key judgments clearly show that the military's counterinsurgency strategy...has begun to slow the rapidly increasing violence and patterns of that violence we have been seeing in Iraq.
"This change is a necessary precondition to the stability and increased political reconciliation that we all seek," Johndroe said.
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