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Senators Debate Changes in U.S Strategy Toward Iraq

President Bush met with members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group Monday to discuss the situation on the ground, as some Democrats called for a phased troop pullout. Two senior senators debate recalling U.S. forces.

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    Benchmarks, timetables, phased redeployments; not even a week after voters went to the polls and declared their distaste for the status quo in Iraq, policymakers are now debating these and other potential approaches.

    Leading that charge today for the Democrats was Michigan Senator Carl Levin, who in January is slated to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He is joined tonight by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: Thank you.


    Senator Levin, you said today that we are headed into an abyss in Iraq, and you suggested there be some sort of phased redeployment. How is that different from the fixed timetable that the president has said he will not accept?

    SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: Well, we believe — those of us who have supported this for many, many months — that we should notify the Iraqis that we will begin a phased reduction, redeployment of our troops in four to six months. And that means that they would be put on notice basically that they have got to address the political problems that divide them.

    They would be put on notice that the open-ended commitment of American troops is no longer there, that we cannot stay there in an open-ended, unlimited way, and that they have got to tackle the problems that only they can tackle. That would be the message that we would send, if the president would agree to tell the Iraqis that, beginning in four to six months, we would initiate a reduction in American forces.

    We would not try to specify the pace. We would acknowledge very openly that you have to have some kind of a force that would remain there to protect our diplomats, and to have some kind of a counterterrorism force, and perhaps to help an Iraqi army with logistics.

    But one way or another, we've got to change the dynamic that exists in Iraq, where the Iraqi leader seems to believe that we can solve their problems for them, when our military leaders have been stating for quite some time that there's no military solution in Iraq; there's only a political solution, and only the Iraqis can arrive at such a solution.