- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

Two senators — both of whom recently returned from Iraq — debated yesterday whether a surge of U.S. troops should be sent to the country to quell the outbreaks of violence.

Sens. Lindsay Graham and Christopher J. Dodd took away differing views from their respective trips about whether U.S. commanders supported such a surge. Mr. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, previously had stated he was open to the possibility of a troop surge, but said his recent visit to the nation changed his mind.

“The commanders that I talked to last week and soldiers on the ground felt that a surge in troops, some 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops, was not going to contribute to the political or diplomatic solution that Iraq cries out for,” Mr. Dodd told ABC News “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos. “And so I believe it will be a mistake for us at this juncture to be adding more troops.”

However, Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, said an upswing in U.S. military presence was the only way to provide the necessary conditions for an eventual withdrawal of American forces to take place.

“You’re not going to have a political solution with this much violence,” Mr. Graham said on “This Week.” “So the surge of troops is, I think, very necessary. Additional combat capability, co-joined with political reform, will be successful.”

Although he continues to support the war, Mr. Graham has been a vocal critic of U.S. strategy. While expressing his support for a troop surge, Mr. Graham also said he believes the U.S. should have gone into the conflict with a larger troop presence.

Reports over the weekend indicated that the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., expressed a willingness to support a temporary troop surge during a recent meeting in Iraq with new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Gen. Casey previously had expressed concern that such an increase would only inflame violence in Baghdad and other troubled spots in the country.

Both senators also debated the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which calls for conducting diplomatic negotiations over Iraq with neighboring Middle East countries, including Iran and Syria.

“This is not the question of liking the government in Syria or wanting to have dinner with them necessarily — but to ignore them, to not spend any time trying to figure out if you have any common purposes here, common agendas I think is a huge mistake,” Mr. Dodd said.

Mr. Graham said he does not think such negotiations are in America’s best interests.

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