NY lawmakers weigh in on Iraq troop increase
(Washington-WABC, January 11, 2007) -- As President Bush tries to push his new Iraqi strategy to the region, New York's Democratic lawmakers sent to lead Congress are voicing their skepticism.
The president, who gave the medal of honor this morning, to the family of Marine killed in Iraq, must now try to sell his plan to the American public. His new defense secretary this morning said he doesn't know how long this temporary surge might last.
Despite opposition from Democrats and many Republicans, the president is refusing to back down his plan will deepen America's commitment to Iraq.
Bush addressed the nation on Wednesday night and said he will send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to quell the surging violence.
But a new ABC poll shows 61 percent of Americans, opposed to increasing the number of troops in Iraq. And on Capitol Hill Democrats pounced on Bush's latest plan. Senator Charles Schumer calls Bush's words, "more troops without a new plan."
Representative Charles Rangel, the dean of the state congressional delegation, says the president's plan for more troops won't improve the situation in Iraq.
Representative Yvette Clarke from Brooklyn, says the idea of increasing the number of troops is dumbfounding to her, while Rep. John Hall says any new plan for Iraq should include more translators and more Middle East experts.
In last night's speech, the president also acknowledged he had erred by failing to order a military buildup last year. "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," Bush said.
Bush rallied against the Democrats' calls to end the war, saying "to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale." Bush also warned that the new strategy would, in the short term, bring more violence rather than less.
"Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue, and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties. The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will," he said.
Under the new plan, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, which is now at 132,000, would rise to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion. The plan calls for sending 17,500 combat troops to Baghdad.
Bush said the first of five brigades will arrive by next Monday, the next would arrive by February 15th and the rest would come in 30 day increments.
Bush also committed 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a place officials say is a hotbed of strong Sunni insurgency and al-Qaida fighters.
In addition to the extra troops, the plan has Iraq offering around 12,000 more troops to secure parts of Baghdad.
While many of the Democratic politicians representing New York voiced their opinions, Senator Hillary Clinton did not weigh in after Bush's new plan was announced. Some believe it's because she has the most at stake, as she eyes a run for president in 2008. However, she has said in recent weeks that she does not support sending more troops to Iraq.
The top Republican in the Senate is now threatening to filibuster any attempt by Democrats to block the president's plan. The House and Senate could vote on resolutions as early as next week, but their options are limited, they can't stop the president. They could vote, however, on future funding for our troops overseas.
Reaction to the Speech
Nationally, other Democrats are vocally rejecting President Bush's call for more troops in Iraq. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said "it's time to begin orderly redeployment" of U.S. forces, and accused Bush of taking "the wrong direction." He also said that it is "time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation. ... [the U.S. shouldn't respond] every time they call 911."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked. Why are they doing this now? That question remains."
And there was criticism from the president's own party. "This is a dangerously wrongheaded strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost," said Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a Vietnam veteran.
The president's speech comes as senate and house Democrats are arranging votes urging the president not to send more troops. While lacking the force of law, the measures would compel Republicans to go on record.
And several Republican senators are now backing the resolution against a troop increase, including Senators Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Gordon Smith and Norman Coleman. Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio and Senator John Warner of Virginia also might be persuaded, officials said.
The new strategy ignores key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which back in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an outreach to Syria and Iran.
Veterans react to Bush's new plan
It's no surprise that President Bush's plan to put more troops in Iraq is drawing a lot of criticism. We wanted to hear what a soldier who fought in Iraq thinks about the new plan -- and whether it will work.
Eyewitness News political reporter Dave Evans has that part of the story.
The veteran we talked with served in Tikrit from October 2004 to November 2005. Like a lot of people, he has his doubts about the surge. But there's also worry about America getting out too quickly.
Sgt. Stephen Dunn, U.S. Army Veteran: "20,000 more troops? Will it help? My opinion, probably not."
Stephen Dunn, a veteran of the war in Iraq, doubts the president's plan will make much of a difference long term. But in the short run it will give the 17,000 troops in Baghdad a chance at a break, a boost of morale and some desperately needed help.
"You gotta look at the fact that the forces over there are so drained. I worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off for 365 days. And that's a lot for anybody," Dunn said.
Military experts say there should have been an overwhelming American force from the very beginning, up to twice the 140,000 troops there today.
Wesley Clark/Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander: "These are all strategic issues. And it's the strategy that's been wrong from the very beginning and it's soldiers and their families who have borne the burden of an improperly-designed strategy."
While Washington debates how and when to get out of Iraq, there's concern over the impact of a hasty American retreat.
Steven Cook, Council on Foreign Relations: "I think it would send a terrible message to both our friends and particularly our enemies in the region that the United States doesn't have the political will, the United States can't be counted on. And it would leave the United States open to more attacks."
Veterans like Stephen Dunn know they may be called up again. He's now joined the New York Police Department, and as a soldier, he supports what ever the president does. As a citizen, though, he has his doubts.
"You kind of wonder, those 3,000 soldiers, was it all for nothing? I don't know. It's a sticky situation.I can't answer that. But do I want all my buddies out of there? Yeah!" he said.
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