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Levin: Iraq plan has wiggle room

Jan. 30, 2009 - 03:45PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 30, 2009 - 03:45PM  |  
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The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said Friday that he believes President Barack Obama's pledge to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months has some "wiggle room."

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The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said Friday that he believes President Barack Obama's pledge to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months has some "wiggle room."

Meeting with reporters to talk about his committee's agenda for the year, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he thinks Obama could accept something less than a complete withdrawal under two conditions.

First, it would depend on "how much longer" a full withdrawal of combat forces might take, Levin said.

Second, Obama could accept a withdrawal plan that included "big movement early" of combat forces that pulled out at least 80 percent of forces within the 16-month timeline, Levin said, adding: "I think that would be credible."

Obama and his White House staff have continued to say their goal remains the withdrawal of all combat forces from Iraq within 16 months. Obama has tasked Pentagon and U.S. Central Command officials with coming up with a plan to do that.

Levin, however, said he thinks a less-than-total withdrawal may be acceptable.

"Is there wiggle room on that? Yes. Is there a lot of wiggle room? No," he said.

Levin laid out an agenda for his committee that closely tracks with many of the goals for the military mentioned by Obama during his presidential campaign.

While waiting for the new administration to submit a 2010 defense budget — which Levin said may not happen until April — the committee will be looking at about six policy issues.

Levin listed a review of Afghanistan and Iraq strategy, acquisition reform, dependence on contractors for traditional military duties, the possibility of sharing a missile defense system with Russia to guard against launches from Iran, implementation of programs to help wounded combat veterans and their families, and detainee issues.

Not on the agenda is repealing the military's ban on open service by gays, he said. Although Obama promised during the campaign to try to overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Levin said this "is not going to be one of the first issues we are going to take up," although Levin shares Obama's views on that issue.

Cutting weapons programs, especially cost overruns once a program is approved, has long been a goal of the armed services committee. Levin said he and the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have some specific ideas in mind, such as the creation of an independent cost estimating office within the Pentagon that might do a better job of predicting weapons costs.

Cutting unnecessary weapons costs is now a high priority, Levin said, because overruns are wasting scarce defense dollars, and national economic problems will force Congress to make a choice between cutting new weapons or repairing and replacing current systems.

When money is tight, Levin said, he would favor spending on the so-called "reset" or fixing and replacing current items over launching new ones.

"Reset will have to prevail," he said.

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