At odds with Bush's policy
SCHWARZENEGGER BACKS EXIT TIMELINES
By Peter Nicholas
WASHINGTON - Aligning himself with congressional Democrats in the debate on the Iraq war, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Sunday that the United States needs to set clear timelines for bringing soldiers home, lest Iraq devolve into a quagmire with no end in sight.
Republican Schwarzenegger, speaking on CBS' ``Face the Nation,'' said Americans will not support a war that becomes an open-ended commitment -- a point, he said, that needs to be made to the Iraqis.
``We should let the Iraqis know that we are here until this time. And then we're going to draw back,'' Schwarzenegger said. ``We're going to draw our troops out of Iraq. I think a timeline is absolutely important, because I think that the people in America don't want to see another Korean war, another Vietnam war, where it's an open-ended thing.''
In Washington for an annual meeting of U.S. governors, Schwarzenegger is staking out a position at odds with that of his party's leader, President Bush, who in a Feb. 14 news conference said, ``The operation to secure Baghdad is going to take time.''
Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed the notion of fixed dates for troop withdrawal as recently as last week. ``I don't think you can put a timetable on it.'' Cheney also has castigated congressional Democrats for opposing Bush's planned ``surge'' of 21,500 soldiers to secure Baghdad, saying that approach would ``validate the Al-Qaida strategy.''
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday spoke out against efforts in Congress to limit the role of U.S. forces in Iraq, saying Bush would not allow himself to be constrained by such a ``micromanagement of military affairs.''
Asked whether Bush would abide by a binding resolution, now being drafted by Democratic leaders, that would include the start of troop withdrawal from Iraq, Rice told ``Fox News Sunday'' that such a proposal would go against his efforts to support the ``flexibility of our commanders to do what they think they need to do on the ground.''
``I can't imagine a circumstance in which it's a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress, trying to micromanage this war,'' Rice said. ``I just don't think it's a good thing.''
Schwarzenegger's position puts him to the left of most Republicans in Congress and those running for president. At minimum, most Democrats have called for setting a timetable for withdrawal, with some going so far as to set a specific date for removing U.S. soldiers.
The governor offered no dates in his remarks Sunday.
Schwarzenegger's stand mirrors that of some of the Democratic candidates for president. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, for example, has introduced legislation requiring that all combat soldiers leave Iraq by March 2008. Until this month, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., had refused to set a date for redeployment of all soldiers. Clinton has since called for removing some soldiers within 90 days. Former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the party's vice-presidential candidate in 2004, wants an immediate drawdown of up to 50,000 soldiers, with a goal of no troops left within 12 to 18 months.
There are about 132,000 U.S. soldiers in the war that began four years ago.
Among Republic candidates for president, Arizona Sen. John McCain has been a Bush ally on the war and is backing the troop surge ordered by the president. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said earlier this month that ``we just can't walk out'' of Iraq. He previously said that he supported Bush's plan for 21,000 additional soldiers. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney also has voiced support for Bush's troop surge.
Along with other governors, Schwarzenegger was to have dinner at the White House on Sunday night. He told CBS' Bob Schieffer that if he got the chance he would tell the president a timeline for withdrawing soldiers is essential.
``If the opportunity is there, I definitely will,'' he said.
When asked for a response to Schwarzenegger's comments, White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mama said, ``The president looks forward to meeting with all the governors this week to talk about his policies as well as hear their thoughts.''
Mindful of Bush's unpopularity in California, Schwarzenegger has never portrayed his White House relationship as especially cozy. Schwarzenegger avoided joint campaign appearances with Bush when the president visited California during the 2006 governor's race.
Schwarzenegger also has been at odds with the Bush administration over the deployment of National Guard troops to the border.