— From NBC's Libby Leist and Ken Strickland
On the heels of Senate Armed Services Committee chair John Warner's call yesterday for the Bush Administration to give the Iraqi government 90 days to reduce the sectarian violence, two Democratic colleagues of Warner's have stepped forward to shed some light on this development.
Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on Armed Services, said that Administration officials -- including President Bush himself -- are encouraging him and one other Senator to publicly make the case that the Iraqis have "a couple of months to resolve their difficulties and to reduce the violence." But Levin thinks that message would be "100 times" more effective coming Bush. "It's the Administration that's got to deliver that message. And the effect will be to force [Iraqi leaders] to take hold of their nation and to resolve their problems politically," said Levin. "I believe within the next few months that the Administration is going to finally reach this point... and I think that [Zalmay] Khalizad, our ambassador, already has."
Potential presidential candidate and Sen. Joe Biden (D), meanwhile, told reporters this afternoon that he's heard from top Senate Republicans that the Administration may eventually rely on the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, as a means for changing course in Iraq while not appearing to cave into Democratic pressure. Biden, who has testified before the group, said he expects that by the end of the year, they will propose a strategy that differs from the Administration's current plan. He offered that he's "absolutely convinced and certain that there are very serious people" in the State Department and at the Pentagon "who in fact think something along the lines that we're talking about has to take place." He added that he hadn't heard from high-level Administration officials directly that they'd use the Iraq Study Group to change course, but that "several Republican Senators" told him that.