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Iraq war testimony favorable to Republicans, analysts say

  • Story Highlights
  • Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker report on Iraq
  • A former defense secretary says testimony likely to embolden Republicans
  • Analysts: Democrats to keep trying to set a firm timeline for troop withdrawals
  • David Gergen: Democrats showed "skepticism bordering on hostility"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Monday's testimony from the top U.S. general in Iraq and the ambassador to Iraq may give Republicans the boost they need to stand strong behind President Bush's policies, analysts said.

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Gen. David Petraeus, left, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker appear in Congress Monday to report on the Iraq war.

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker appeared before a joint meeting of the House Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and spoke about the progress of the war.

"I think what's going to happen is the Republicans who were wavering or thinking of supporting the Democratic proposals probably will not be inclined to do so now," said William Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine and defense secretary in the Clinton administration.

"This will give them some room for maneuver or an opportunity to say 'Let's wait a little bit longer.' "

Jon Alterman, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East program, said the testimony "may be enough to buy the president time and get him the appropriations he seeks."

Petraeus said in Monday's testimony that a troop drawdown could begin this month with the withdrawal of a Marine expeditionary unit followed by an Army brigade slated to return in mid-December. Further withdrawals should be put off until the middle of March, he said.

But, Petraeus noted, the 30,000 additional troops sent into Iraq as part of Bush's "surge" this year could be home by July 2008.

Retired Army Gen. Robert Gard, now the senior director of the nuclear threat reduction campaign for Veterans for America, called upcoming troop reductions "very much token" and a conciliatory gesture "to a very influential Republican," referring to Sen. John Warner of Virginia.

Warner has said the U.S. should bring about 5,000 troops home by the end of the year.

"When you look at 160,000 plus troops, removing 4,000 is hardly a major change," Gard said. "And the other drawdowns that come next year are inevitable unless you make some fundamental changes in touring or bring in some guardsmen who haven't had enough rest." Video Watch Petraeus talk about troop drawdowns »

Other U.S. analysts have already said the armed services will be unable to maintain the current level of more than 160,000 troops beyond next spring.

Analysts expect Democrats to keep trying to set a firm timeline for troop withdrawals when defense appropriations for the war come up later this month. And Republicans are expected to keep opposing that move.

Alterman, also a former adviser to the Iraq Study Group, said Monday's testimony indicated "the president has made their [Republicans] jobs easier by essentially retreating from the battle line he's held for four years."

The battle line, he said, has gone from "trying to make the central government work, trying to promote a strong, liberal, unified Iraq that's an inspiration to the region [to] merely a measure of, 'Are we making things better?' "

Retired Air Force Gen. Don Shepperd, now a CNN military analyst, said the testimony did not give the Democrats what they wanted.

"The Democrats were hoping to hear a time," said Shepperd. "They didn't hear that. They basically said, 'Next March we'll take another look at which way to go, and the surge can end by July."

"I think you will see continued Democratic pressure to set a date certain," he added. "For Republicans, I think this will be enough."

Although he said Bush's war strategy appears firm until next spring at the earliest, Cohen said that "things on the ground might change things" by that time and certainly by next fall's elections.

"Much will depend upon whether or not there will be a systematic reduction [of violence] going into the elections," he said. "If there continues to be violence, that will have political consequences to Republicans. Much remains to be determined at this point. I think the most important thing is the president will buy some time until next spring."

Overall, Monday's testimony probably changed few minds, said David Gergen.

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A former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes, Gergen said, "Congress ... increasingly looks like it's not going to listen" to Petraeus' assessment.

"Because those opening statements on both the Democratic and the Republican side suggested a high degree of partisanship," he said. "Skepticism bordering on hostility coming from the Democrats, a welcoming embrace on the part of the Republicans." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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