Fight looms as Bush vetoes Iraq Bill

US President says setting deadline for withdrawal will cause chaos.

US PRESIDENT George W. Bush has killed a plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq.

Digging in his heels for another round of battle with the Democrat-controlled Congress which has threatened new legislation, he vetoed a US$124 billion (S$190 billion) war spending Bill that would have mandated a pullout by March next year.

“This is a prescription for chaos and confusion and we must not impose it on our troops,” Mr Bush said in remarks broadcast nationally from the White House.

“Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure, and that would be irresponsible.”

Mr Bush maintained that the measure would “mandate a rigid and artificial deadline” for withdrawal, and “it makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing”.

President Bush had long pledged to scuttle the Democrat Bill, which was passed last week by a mostly partisan margin of 218-208.

Lawmakers linked the emergency funds for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to a call for their pullout to begin on Oct 1 and to be completed in six months.

The President’s veto, coming exactly four years after he declared that major combat was over in Iraq in a “Mission Accomplished” speech, predictably riled top Democrats.

They accused him of ignoring the American public that has already registered its disapproval of the war in the mid-term elections which swept the Democrat Party to power in Congress.

“The President wants a blank cheque,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spearheaded the Bill that was a rare rebuke of a wartime president. “The Congress is not going to give it to him.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Mr Bush had an obligation to explain his plan for responsibly ending the war. “If the President thinks by vetoing this Bill, he’ll stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken,” he said.

The President has been at loggerheads with Congress over the past three months on emergency funding for troops. His veto on Tuesday closes the first phase of the battle.

The second was due to begin yesterday with congressional leaders meeting Mr Bush at the White House to start fresh negotiations on a new Bill.

Clearly, the Democrats do not have enough votes to override the veto despite the fact that they received the backing of Republicans. The key challenge for them now is how far to push the issue.

There was concern among Democrats that if the Bill had been signed into law, then they would risk “ownership” of the outcome in Iraq.

Following the veto, they have indicated a plan for a replacement Bill without any timetable for a troop withdrawal.

This measure proposes setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. Both the White House and congressional Republicans have also called for goals but only if they are non-binding.

Republicans, concerned about the declining popularity of their party, now appear intent on breaking with Mr Bush.

“Some kind of compromise has to be worked out between the administration and the Democrats,” said Mr George Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr Bush could find himself in an ever weaker position if Republicans break away from him. This is Mr Bush’s second veto in over six years of office – and perhaps a harbinger of a gridlock between the White House and legislators for the remaining 18 months of his presidency.

DOOMED TO FAIL

“Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure, and that would be irresponsible.”
PRESIDENT BUSH, on why he vetoed the Bill

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