- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

A Democratic governor broke from the rhetoric of many in her party yesterday when she said bringing freedom to Iraq was worth going to war, even if no weapons of mass destruction are found.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco joined a bipartisan group of governors fresh from a two-day trip to Iraq who urged that the delicate situation in that country not be “politicized” in the upcoming presidential election.

Mrs. Blanco said “it’s easy to second-guess” President Bush’s decision to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — as have many Democrats — but if the United States can help create a free society in its wake, history will judge the endeavor favorably.

“I think the merit of whether or not it was a good idea will be determined with our success or lack thereof with the Iraqi effort,” Mrs. Blanco said after emerging from a visit with Mr. Bush yesterday. “If the terrorists take control, then we will have failed. It will all have been for naught.

“If we are able to help them establish something that is a free society with self determination, then in the long-run it will have been something that has value,” she said.

Other governors just back from a trip organized by the White House stressed the need to “stay the course” after meeting with Mr. Bush at the White House.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, said the issue came up in conversations with Iraqis as the six governors traveled the country.

“We had a number of people ask us, ‘Will you continue to stand with us as we go to this transition to freedom and democracy?’” Mr. Pawlenty told reporters. “It’s very important that the United States send a signal that we’re going to stay the course and finish the job.”

New York Gov. George E. Pataki, also a Republican, agreed. “If we win in Iraq, then we will have broken the back of terrorism,” he said.

Mrs. Blanco said she had reservations before the war because many Americans “felt awkward about being an aggressor nation for the first time in our history instead of defending ourselves.”

But the wisdom of Operation Iraqi Freedom “will be decided over a period of time and will be determined over the course of history.”

Mrs. Blanco said the troops in Iraq are “not as concerned about the politics of the war as getting the mission done,” and all the governors agreed that the war should not be politicized.

Republican Govs. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, Linda Lingle of Hawaii and Democratic Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski of Oregon also were on the trip.

“We’re both Republicans and Democrats,” Miss Lingle said. “And one of the conclusions we reached that we feel is very important in a presidential election year is that this issue not be politicized during political debate.

“We feel there are too many American lives at stake,” she said. “There’s been too many American resources put into this effort to allow it to degrade into political fighting in a presidential election year.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports

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