"Kicking The Can Down The Road" On Iraq

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on "Face The Nation"

President Bush has been delaying action to reduce the United States' presence in Iraq despite his assurances that the surge would presage a withdrawal of U.S. troops, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The president has been kicking the can down the road for the last couple of years, saying we'll have a surge and if it works then we can bring our troops home," Rep. Pelosi, D-Calif., told Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer. "And now there's a pause in withdrawal, and redeployment out, but we haven't really had any major redeployment out.

"The president's Iraq war policy is not making the American people safer," she said. "It is undermining the capability of our military to protect the American people.

"There is not a strategy involved here to go in, get a job done, and come home. That's really unfair to our troops, our men and women in uniform, who have done everything they've been asked to do, and well."

Earlier this week Mr. Bush announced that the tours of duty for U.S. Army troops, which were extended last year from 12 months to 15, will be brought back down to 12.

However, Mr. Bush's decision will only apply to troops sent to Iraq on August 1 or later, meaning nearly half of all troops currently in Iraq whose tours were extended will still have to serve 15 months, according to the group Veterans for America.

Moreover, on Thursday the president ordered a halt to further troop withdrawals from Iraq after July, following the recommendation of Gen. David Petraeus, ensuring that U.S. forces will remain there in high numbers throughout the remainder of his term in office.

This again raises the question critics of the administration have posed about America being able to effectively deploy its military where needed, like in Afghanistan.

"We have to think about the safety of the American people," Pelosi said. "We don't have a combat-ready unit in the United States to protect any threats to our security, wherever they may occur. The real war on terrorism is in Afghanistan. We need to redeploy troops to Afghanistan, but there are no troops to redeploy."

She also reminded Schieffer that soon the U.S. presence in Iraq will be longer than was America's participation in World War II.

But when asked whether a withdrawal from that country would set back any advances in security that have been made, Pelosi said, "What would happen is that the Iraqi government would take responsibility for its country. They would get a signal from us that they must now make the political decisions necessary to bring peace and reconciliation to their country. They have had no incentive to do that, because we are there and we're there in greater numbers."

Also on the program, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disputed that the U.S. is not sufficiently deployed in Afghanistan to face threats to peace there. "We've deployed 3,500 additional Marines there," he told Schieffer. "The French have committed to send a battalion which will allow us to send additional forces to the southern part of the country. I think that there is a requirement to have more forces in the longer term. And, frankly, I'm confident that we will have lower force levels in Iraq in 2009 that will enable us to be more helpful in Afghanistan."

But when would the U.S. be able to leave Iraq, especially in light of Gen. Petraeus' testimony before Congress this week, in which he neglected to explain what benchmarks would have to be met in order to warrant a withdrawal of U.S. forces?

When asked how we would know when the situation in Iraq is better, Gates responded, "I think it's already happening. Eight provinces in Iraq are already under provincial Iraqi control, where there are either no coalition forces or they are in a strategic overwatching, background position; they're not involved in combat.

"The process is one of province by province, district by district. When the Iraqi security forces are good enough; when the security situation is calm enough that we can then recede into the background, this is the process that's underway. And there are clearly large populous areas that aren't in that category, but that's the direction in which we're headed."

But Gates argued that timetables for troop levels cannot be predicted because of the situation on the ground. "People want certainty about things that no one can know" in Iraq, he said.

Read the full "Face the Nation" transcript here.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.