Congressmen call for U.S. withdrawal
Sponsors include Republican who pushed for 'freedom fries'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican congressman who pushed for "french fries" to be renamed "freedom fries" joined a bipartisan group of House members Thursday to call on President Bush to begin plans for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina said it is time for Congress to start talking about bringing American troops home from Iraq.
A White House spokesman emphasized the need to complete the mission and said Bush intends to "sharpen his focus" in his public appearances to counter a sag in public support for the war.
The proposed House resolution calls on Bush to announce by year's end a plan for a withdrawal from Iraq that would begin by October 1, 2006.
"After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discussion on this resolution," said Jones, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Other sponsors are Republican Rep. Ron Paul, a former Libertarian presidential candidate from Texas; Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, another Armed Services Committee member; and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination as an antiwar candidate last year.
Polls show flagging public support for the two-year-old war. A Gallup survey last week found that 56 percent of those polled thought the war was not worth the cost, and 59 percent said some or all U.S. troops should be pulled out. (Full story)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the resolution would send the wrong message to the world at a time when the insurgency against U.S. troops and Iraqi forces is in "a desperate mode."
"We all want our troops to return home soon," McClellan said. "The best way to get our troops home and to honor them is to complete the mission in Iraq.
"That means continuing to train Iraqi forces so that they can take over all of the security of their own country and provide for their own defense."
Lt. Gen. James Conway, chief of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff, said setting a deadline also would send the wrong message to the insurgents, encouraging them "to wait us out."
"If you look at it from the insurgents' perspective, they know our history, just like we study them," said Conway, who was a Marine commander in Iraq.
"And they see where we have withdrawn previously, in Vietnam, in Beirut, in Somalia, and nothing would make them happier, I suppose, than to think that there is a deadline out there," he told a Pentagon news briefing.
McClellan said Bush realizes Americans are concerned about Iraq, "and that's why he's going to sharpen his focus, spending more time talking about the progress that's being made on the ground."
The president will give an address in Washington on June 28, the one-year anniversary of the transfer of power from U.S.-led occupation forces to an interim Iraqi government, McClellan said.
Putting aside differences
Jones voted for the October 2002 congressional resolution that gave Bush the authority to launch the invasion of Iraq the following March.
He also pushed for the House cafeteria to adopt "freedom fries," as a snub to France because of its opposition to the U.S. drive for war.
Speaking at news conference Thursday, Jones said "no one is talking about cutting and running" but that it was time for the United States to begin handing over responsibility to Iraq's transitional government.
"Clearly we are giving the Iraqis every reasonable chance for democracy," he said.
"But at some time in the near future, the ultimate fact of Iraq will and should rest in the hands of Iraqis. We will continue to support them in their efforts, but they cannot forever be dependent upon America as a primary defense force in Iraq."
Kucinich said he hoped the proposal would be "the basis for the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq."
"It's right here, and it's happened because four members of Congress put aside any kind of differences that we may have had in the run-up to the war and the conduct of the war, and we're saying this is the way to bring our troops home," Kucinich said.