WASHINGTON - Giving the Democratic rebuttal to
President Bush's new Iraq war strategy, Illinois
Sen. Dick Durbin on Wednesday harshly criticized
the plan for placing more American lives at risk
with little chance of stabilizing Iraq.
"The escalation of his war is not the change
that the American people called for in the last
election," Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the
Senate, said in his nationally televised
remarks. "Instead of a new direction, the
president's plan moves the American commitment
in Iraq in the wrong direction.
"Twenty-thousand American soldiers are too
few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many
American lives to risk on top of those we've
already lost," he said. "The Iraqis must
understand that they alone can lead their nation
to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges
that lie ahead. And they must know that every
time they call 9-1-1 we are not going to send
20,000 more American soldiers."
Durbin, a longtime critic of the Bush
administration's war policies, reiterated his
call for an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops
It wasn't the first time that the Illinois
senator has provided his party's official
response to the president. As minority whip,
Durbin last May spoke out against the
president's immigration initiative.
However, now that Democrats control both the
House and the Senate, Durbin's words carry added
weight. The choice to have him give the official
Democratic response was made by Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Earlier in the day, Reid, Durbin and other
congressional leaders were briefed by Bush at
the White House. They complained that Bush
hadn't consulted them until after he'd already
drafted his speech.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was part of a
bipartisan group of senators invited to the
White House last week. Rep. Ray LaHood,
R-Peoria, was in a group of House Republicans
that met with Bush on Tuesday.
Emerging from the White House, Durbin said
Bush at times appeared defensive and less
certain about Iraq than in the past.
"For the first time ever, he and others at
the table from the administration expressed
frustration with (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri)
al-Maliki's government," the senator said. "I
have never heard that before. He has been such a
cheerleader for al-Maliki."
"The president I thought today was less
confident than he has been in the past," Durbin
said. "When he would speak of Iraq in the past,
it was with a measure of confidence."
"I think today he understands not only the
American Congress but the American people have
real questions about his leadership on this
Dori Meinert can be reached at 202-737-7686