- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2005

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said yesterday she now agrees with Rep. John P. Murtha’s call to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately, adding that a majority of House Democrats also agree.

“I’m endorsing what Mr. Murtha is saying, which is that the status quo is not working and that we need to have a plan that makes us safer, our military stronger, and makes Iraq more stable,” she said.

“I believe that a majority of our caucus clearly supports Mr. Murtha,” she added.

But not the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

“I believe that a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation’s security and credibility,” he said.

His comments echoed those of Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Demo-crat, who said Tuesday that “the place could go to chaos” and America would have “sacrificed” everything gained if soldiers are prematurely withdrawn. The senator said Iraqi troop training has improved after several early mistakes and said President Bush has a strategy for success.

Democrats, while agreeing among themselves that Mr. Bush’s speech yesterday fell short of detailing a clear plan that would inspire the American people and the troops, are split into several camps on the question of what to do about troop levels in Iraq.

On one hand is Mr. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and a decorated Marine who saw combat in Vietnam, calling for immediate withdrawal, which he thinks would take six months, and leaving a smaller contingent of Marines in the region as a rapid-response force.

In between his position and Mr. Lieberman’s position are many Democrats who say withdrawal should be a part of the White House’s public strategy, but do not want to tie troops’ hands to an artificial timetable.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and presumed front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, set the mark for some time in 2006 and tied the issue to the Iraqi parliamentary elections.

“I believe we are at a critical point with the December 15th elections that should, if successful, allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year, while leaving behind a smaller contingent in safer areas with greater intelligence and quick-strike capabilities,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in an e-mail to her constituents.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, also said troops should begin to come home during 2006.

“That’s the yardstick by which the American people will judge progress in Iraq,” he said.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said the elections are important but added that “this debate is not about an artificial date for withdrawal.”

“We all believe in those elections. The success of those elections, ladies and gentlemen, provides a benchmark of success which allows you then to be able to withdraw some of the troops, which you will notice the president, vice president, and the secretary of defense have now acknowledged that they will withdraw if the elections are successful,” Mr. Kerry said.

He said the large presence of American forces on the ground is feeding the insurgency and making it more difficult for Iraqis to assume responsibility because they don’t have to.

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said the guideline should be the 79-19 vote in the Senate last month calling on the president to lay out a schedule for success, though it was not tied to troop withdrawal.

Republicans accused Mrs. Pelosi of flip-flopping in backing Mr. Murtha because she joined 402 other members of the House two weeks ago in voting against immediate withdrawal.

“Nancy Pelosi continues to eschew her responsibility as a congressional leader in favor of playing politics with the most pressing national security issue we face today,” said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Her statement today puts her at odds with Hillary Clinton and other prominent members of her party.”

Mrs. Pelosi called for withdrawal even as she said Mr. Bush was being dishonest when he laid out how many Iraqi troops have been trained. She said she has visited Iraq several times and does not think the Iraqis have enough trained soldiers to defend themselves.

“If the president wants to sustain the effort that he is describing and that his administration is describing, it’s impossible to do so without a draft,” she said. “We just simply do not have the resources to do so. Some troops are on their third and fourth deployment into Iraq.”

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