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Iraq Transition

Cheney: 'Self-appointed strategists' forcing withdrawal

Story Highlights

NEW: Vice president repeats White House veto threat if Iraq bill includes deadlines
• Sens. Harry Reid, Russ Feingold sponsoring bill to end most war funding in 2008
• Reid spokesman says it's an effort to change White House policy on war
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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday blasted "self-appointed strategists" on Capitol Hill for trying to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, declaring the U.S. military answers to the president, not Congress.

Speaking to a fundraising luncheon for Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, Cheney repeated President Bush's promise to veto an upcoming emergency war-spending bill if it contains any timetable for a withdrawal.

"It's time the self-appointed strategists on Capitol Hill understood a very simple concept: You cannot win a war if you tell the enemy you're going to quit," he said.

Both Bush and congressional leaders say each other would be to blame for stalling money for the war effort if the president vetoes the bill.

Cheney said Democrats are trying to push the president into accepting "unwise and inappropriate restrictions on our commanders."

"The fact is that the United States military answers to one commander-in-chief in the White House, not 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill," he added. "We expect the House and the Senate to meet the needs of our military on time, in full, and with no strings attached."

He urged Congress to "stop the political theater" and send Bush an acceptable war-spending bill before the Pentagon begins to run low on cash later this spring.

Meanwhile, the standoff between Congress and the White House over Iraq ratcheted up another notch Monday over war funding.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is joining Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, in sponsoring a new Iraq bill that would end the majority of Iraq war funding after March 31, 2008, the day Senate Democrats originally proposed pulling troops out of the war-ravaged nation.

The bill would permit spending in only three areas: fighting al Qaeda, training Iraqis and protecting the U.S. Embassy and personnel. (Watch how the political chess match between Congress and the White House is being played out Video)

Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, concedes passing the bill won't be easy.

"This is an uphill battle, but it's the next step in a series of things to try and change the president's policy in Iraq," he said.

White House spokesman Dana Perino responded by accusing Democrats of changing their stance on Iraq. "It's almost shifting so fast, it's like a sandstorm," she said.

Perino insisted funding is essential.

At the Sessions fundraiser, Cheney said Democrats are essentially telling U.S. troops to "retreat -- with no regard whatsoever for the actual conditions on the ground in Iraq."

"When members of Congress speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy to simply watch the clock and wait us out," he said.

Last week, the Senate passed a $123 billion Iraq spending measure that recommends a final withdrawal of all troops by March 31, 2008, and mandated that troops begin redeployment within four months of the bill's passage.

Congressional negotiators are trying to reconcile that bill with a House version calling for an August withdrawal.

Bush, meanwhile, is threatening to veto any bill that sets a timetable for withdrawing troops, even if the bill contains vital war money.

Cheney reiterated that threat during his Monday speech, saying that "if either version comes to the president's desk, he will use the veto power, no question about it."

He added, "It's also clear that we've got enough supporters of the military in Congress to sustain a veto, and so it is pointless for the Democrats to continue pursuing this legislation."

Reid apparently is trying to leverage the White House by toughening the bill, and he is pushing to vote on the new measure within the next two months.

In a statement, Reid said that if Bush vetoes the legislation, "I will work to ensure this [new bill] receives a vote in the Senate in the next work period." (Watch why Bush says the Democratic budget could endanger security Video)

The work period begins April 10, when the Senate returns from its spring recess, and ends Memorial Day.

Republican staff members tell CNN that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is looking closely at the bill. McConnell has repeatedly challenged anti-war lawmakers to cut off funds for the war rather than impose conditions that would force a withdrawal, but he said Monday that Reid's measure amounts to "an arbitrary surrender date."

"The chosen date isn't tied to circumstances on the ground or the needs of the military commanders," the Kentucky Republican said in a written statement. "It's completely arbitrary. It was pulled out of thin air, and the terrorists have already marked it on their calendars."

A McConnell aide told CNN that Reid simply cannot get the votes to support this latest bill, but Manley rejected that assessment.

Manley scoffs at that assertion: "No one knows where the votes are until we call the roll."


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Sens. Harry Reid, left, and Russ Feingold are co-sponsoring a bill that would end most Iraq war funding on March 31, 2008.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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