WASHINGTON -- President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid each showed up with military support yesterday in advance of a meeting tomorrow on the Democrats' call for a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Bush appeared in the East Room of the White House with retired military personnel and families of current service members.
"They know that the enemies who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, want to bring further destruction to our country," Bush said. "The consequences of failure would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America."
About the same time, Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was at the Capitol with two retired generals who oppose Bush's escalation policy in Iraq.
"The president has a choice to make in the coming days," said Reid, "cling to the discredited policies that have led our troops further into this intractable civil war or work with a bipartisan majority of Congress to make us more secure."
Reid will be among the congressional leaders who are to meet with Bush tomorrow to talk about the war-funding bill headed for Bush's desk. The House and Senate each passed versions that include troop withdrawal deadlines.
Bush has vowed to veto the bill, which he says provides vital funding for U.S. forces in Iraq. He said his East Room military guests "have come here to Washington with a message for their elected leaders in our nation's capital: Our troops need the resources, equipment and weapons to fight our enemies. Congress needs to pass an emergency war spending bill without strings and without further delay."
Bush, while saying that he was "looking forward" to the meeting, reiterated his unwillingness to negotiate.
"I hope the Democratic leadership will drop their unreasonable demands for a precipitous withdrawal," he said. "We should not legislate defeat in this vital war."
Reid seemed equally resolute.
"Yes," he said when asked if he would be taking a proposal to the White House meeting, "the offer is that the president sign our bill."
Reid, at a news conference with retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard Jr., and retired Brig. Gen. John Johns, branded the situation in Iraq as "intractable civil war."
Johns said the war effort has been a "misplaced, inappropriate use of U.S. combat forces" that is "alienating most of the world."
"You can listen to simplistic statements of the administration, appealing to emotion and fear, or you can take an analytical approach and see the reality of the world," Johns said.
Gard dismissed Bush's call for critics to wait several months to allow his escalation strategy to have an impact.
"The problem is, it's too little, too late," Gard said. "What we're doing is counterproductive. It is detrimental to our national security."
He said he was speaking out against Bush's policy because "the president, as all presidents do, uses the active-duty military as props to make it appear that the military is united behind his policy."
"To continue on, to continue when the violence is increasing - we're not getting anywhere militarily - is foolhardy and will have he same result" as the Vietnam War, Gard said.
Also yesterday, the Bush administration fielded criticism from a retired Marine general who had been contacted about the new war czar post being created by the White House.
Retired Gen. John J. Sheehan said in a Washington Post op-ed column that he had been asked whether he would like to be considered for the job. His response was "no," he wrote, because "we have never gotten it right in Iraq."
"These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff," Sheehan wrote.