WASHINGTON -- President Bush plans to ask Americans once again for patience and sacrifice at war, but congressional leaders say that their patience has run out and that the U.S. military has sacrificed enough.
Bush, facing the nation tonight in a prime-time television speech, is expected to explain a war strategy that claims limited but notable success with the buildup in U.S. forces that he announced in January - when he asked Americans, in another televised address from the White House, for "patience, sacrifice and resolve."
He will cite the work of Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who announced this week that he has recommended a scaling back of troops to "pre-surge" levels, drawing about 30,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq by mid-July.
Yet the Petraeus plan, soon to become the Bush plan, already faces a storm of criticism from Democratic congressional leaders, who maintain that the administration's claims of improved security in Iraq are overstated. They complain that Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of the "breathing room" for political reconciliation that the buildup was supposed to provide them.
But Democrats, lacking the votes to override the president, might have to settle for the redeployment that Petraeus has spelled out: Withdrawing a combat brigade in December and four more over the course of early next year, leaving a force of about 130,000 in place next summer - the same size force that the U.S. showed in January.
Democratic leaders warned this week that the White House is making an "open-ended commitment" to the war in Iraq that could leave a high profile of U.S. forces there well into the next decade.
The White House insists that the goal in Iraq remains the same: victory, which Bush defines as an Iraq capable of maintaining its own security and sustaining its government.
"It's pretty clear that it is not a war without end," White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday.
The White House has not confirmed the content of Bush's speech, but senators who have met with him privately say it is clear that he will present the Petraeus plan.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said yesterday that the Senate would begin debate next week on a series of amendments "to change the course in Iraq."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, called the general's plan "the definition of an open-ended commitment" and held out hope that enough Republicans will join forces with Democrats to meet a 60-vote threshold in the Senate to alter the war plan.
Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, acknowledged that the road ahead "is going to be a long, difficult process."
"There are no magic switches to flip in Iraq - not on reconciliation, not on the other hard issues," he said yesterday at a news conference with Petraeus after two days of testimony on Capitol Hill. "There is a lot of frustration - that's frustration that we who are serving in Iraq are facing every day."
Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.