Dean says Democrats have united plan
Party chairman and Kerry offer specific Iraq withdrawal proposals
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Leading Democrats sought Thursday to promote a specific plan for what party chairman Howard Dean called a "strategic redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Dean said on CNN's "American Morning" that Democrats have a plan for Iraq "that we can coalesce around" and that the differences between Democrats are being overemphasized by the media.
"I think that's mostly press gobbledygook," he said. "The press wants to focus on the differences. The differences are pretty small, perhaps Senator Lieberman excepted."
On Wednesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut reproached fellow Democrats for criticizing President Bush during a time of war.
"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril," Lieberman said.
Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a leading Democratic congressman on military issues, voiced his disagreement with Lieberman's statement and reiterated his call for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "at the earliest practicable date."
Dean said he is "with Jack Murtha" about withdrawing troops from Iraq.
"We need a strategic redeployment of our troops. We need to bring the 50,000 [National] Guard troops home in the next six months. They don't belong there in the first place," Dean said.
"We need a special task force of anti-terrorist troops stationed in the Middle East, because we're going to have to deal with [terrorist leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi for a long time.
"We need 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. We need to redeploy our troops ... and stop making our troops the target over there," he said.
Some of Dean's comments contrasted with those he made in a radio interview Monday that the United States appears to be repeating the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq -- and that the idea that the war in Iraq can be won is "just plain wrong."
"We can only win the war, which we have to win, if we change our strategy dramatically. The Democrats are coalescing around a very different strategy. We hope the president will join us," Dean said on CNN.
Dean was assailed by some Republicans for his comments Monday, and Bush countered by saying the war can and will be won.
"I know we're going to win," Bush told reporters Tuesday at the White House. "Our troops need to hear not only are they supported but that we have got a strategy that will win.
Dean said his comments from the radio interview in San Antonio, Texas, were taken "out of context. They kind of cherry-picked that one the same way the president cherry-picked the intelligence going into Iraq."
Kerry gets specific
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts offered more specifics for withdrawal following a speech Thursday to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Kerry said he thought at least 100,000 troops could be withdrawn by this time next year. "[You could] bring it down somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 to 40,000. And then see where you are," he said.
But, Kerry said, he "would not do it on a fixed, automatic timetable. It has to be results coordinated."
He said the withdrawal should take place in stages according to "a series of benchmarks of accomplishment" by the Iraqis.
One benchmark Kerry cited was the December 15 parliamentary elections. If those go well, he said, the United States might withdraw 20,000 troops.
The proposals by Dean and Kerry appeared to be similar in part to what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday night was the Pentagon's plan to bring home nearly 20,000 troops following the elections.
Rumsfeld said military officials will consider reducing troop strength further if the "conditions permit."
American troop levels, once as high as 160,000, now stand at 155,000, Rumsfeld said on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Troop levels were increased by about 20,000 in anticipation of election violence by insurgents.
"We're going to go back down to our baseline of 137-138,000 after the elections. I'm sure of that," Rumsfeld said. "Then, after that, we'll look at the conditions, the circumstances."
A Pentagon source said Thursday one option under consideration calls for sending a brigade of the 1st Armored Division in Germany to Kuwait as a rapid reaction force, instead of directly to Iraq.
A brigade of the 1st Infantry Division scheduled to deploy from Fort Riley, Kansas, might stay home and only small groups sent to serve as additional trainers for Iraqi security forces, officials said.
Those two moves would mean a further reduction of roughly 10,000 troops -- to around 127,000 -- as other units end their missions and aren't replaced.
Lieberman had breakfast Thursday with Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A Pentagon official said the invitation was extended a few days ago, following Lieberman's statements of support for Bush on the war.
Rumsfeld regularly sets aside time to meet with members of Congress on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the official acknowledged this invitation was unusual. The secretary also met a few months ago with Murtha.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have given speeches rejecting calls for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops but conceding the course of the war is changing.
Both have praised Lieberman for his comments. "Senator Lieberman is right," Bush said.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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