- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Congressional Democrats say their criticisms of the Iraq war are vindicated by the Iraq Study Group’s report and promised yesterday to begin “extensive hearings” in January that will continue for months.

“We’re going to bring in every reasonable person we can find — left, right and center; military, civilian and government — to discuss elements of this report and discuss what alternatives there may be,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who will head the Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday after a private briefing with members of the bipartisan panel.

Democrats — many of whom, including Mr. Biden, voted to authorize the Iraq war — also took the opportunity to claim victory in the debate about the war, which is sure to dominate politics for the foreseeable future and likely through the 2008 presidential election.

“Their report indicates that they agree with what the election results were on Nov. 7: There must be a change of course in Iraq,” said Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who will become majority leader next month when Democrats take control of the chamber. “The Iraq Study Group is a rejection of the policies of the Bush administration on war in Iraq.”

Mr. Reid was among those who voted for the war.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the study “concluded that the president’s Iraq policy failed and must change.”

Though she said she hadn’t read the entire report, she noted the recommendation to shift the primary mission in Iraq to training and support from combat.

“Months ago, House and Senate Democratic leaders suggested to the president that he implement one of the study group’s chief recommendations,” said Mrs. Pelosi, who voted against going to war. “Now that the study group has endorsed this proposal, I hope that the president will recognize that he must take our policy in Iraq in a new direction.”

While the panel’s report certainly ratifies many of the complaints Democrats have lodged against the Bush administration’s war policy in recent years, it also presents something of a dicey situation for Democrats as well. In the first place, Democrats are hardly united about how to proceed.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, said the report doesn’t call for a quick enough withdrawal. “Staying in Iraq is not an option politically, militarily or fiscally,” said Mr. Murtha, who also voted in favor of the war.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat who was recently selected by Mrs. Pelosi to head the House intelligence committee, voted in 2002 against going to war but argues that now U.S. troops are there and leaving prematurely would be disastrous.

“I don’t want Iraq to become the next Afghanistan,” he said in a recent interview with Newsweek magazine. “We could not allow Iraq to become a safe haven for al Qaeda, for Hamas, for Hezbollah, or anybody else. We cannot allow Iran or Syria to have a free hand in there to further destabilize the Middle East.”

While Democrats say they won the November elections on a promise to get troops out of Iraq, they refuse to discuss using the one sure tool they have to immediately halt the operation: cutting off funding.

“Doing anything like that might hurt the troops,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who voted for the war, said yesterday. Democrats in Congress will provide oversight for now, and on matters of foreign policy, he said, legislation should be the last option.

In the Senate, 29 of the chamber’s 50 Democrats voted for the war. In the House, 81 Democrats — fewer than half, but a sizable bloc — voted for war. Those war votes cast by Democrats have already begun playing a role in the budding presidential primary.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination who has been criticized within her own party for supporting the war, said in her statement yesterday that “the American people have spoken. The Iraq Study Group has spoken. Experts across the political spectrum have spoken. Even the president’s nominee for defense secretary has spoken.”

“Now it’s time for the president to listen and change the course in Iraq,” she said.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee and is thought to harbor 2008 ambitions as well, also declared the debate over.

“Not one more American soldier should die because politicians in Iraq or in the United States are unwilling to face reality and change direction,” said Mr. Kerry, who voted for the war. “We need to change course now.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide