WASHINGTON -- President Bush yesterday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new Iraq plan to propose their own strategy for stopping the violence in Baghdad.
"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible," Bush said.
In a pitch to lawmakers and the American people, Bush said the United States will keep the onus on the Iraqi government to take charge of security and reach a political reconciliation. He countered Democrats and his fellow Republicans who argue that Bush is sending 21,500 more US troops into Iraq on the same mission.
"We have a new strategy with a new mission: helping secure the population, especially in Baghdad," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Our plan puts Iraqis in the lead."
The president, who hosted an informal, mostly social gathering of Republican leaders at Camp David on Friday night and yesterday, asked for patience from lawmakers from both parties. The lawmakers had grilled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week when the officials testified before Congress in defense of the president's plan.
"Obviously, the need to secure Baghdad and strengthen an ally in the war on terror was among the items we discussed," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said yesterday about the discussions the lawmakers had with Bush at Camp David. "But we also discussed the need to find bold solutions for other big issues."
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate intend to hold votes within a few weeks on Bush's revised Iraq policy. The nonbinding resolutions would be one way to show their opposition to any troop buildup and force Republicans to make a choice about whether they support the president's plan.
Representative Tim Walz, Democrat of Minnesota, said that he, along with most Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans, believe sending more troops would compound a bad situation.
Walz, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said diplomatic and political solutions are needed, not more troops.
"Before moving forward with this escalation, we owe it to these troops, to their families, and to all Americans to ask the tough questions and demand honest answers about this policy," Walz said in the Democrats' radio address.
In a visit to Baghdad, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed doubt that Iraq's government would follow through with its promises to secure Baghdad as she met with top Iraqi officials and American commanders.
It was the third trip to Iraq for Clinton, a Democrat from New York who is considering running for president, and comes amid opposition from the Democrat-controlled Congress to President Bush's plans to send more troops to stop the rampant violence.
"I don't know that the American people or the Congress at this point believe this mission can work," she told ABC News in Baghdad. "And in the absence of a commitment that is backed up by actions from the Iraqi government, why should we believe it?"
Noting she had to travel wearing body armor and surrounded by soldiers and security guards, Clinton called the situation in Iraq "heartbreaking."