- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

The House yesterday rejected setting an “arbitrary” timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq and vowed to keep fighting the global war on terror, a vote that forced lawmakers to take an election-year position on two major issues.

The nonbinding resolution passed 256-153, capping a two-day, 10-hour debate filled with praise for the troops but also partisan bickering and tense exchanges over war policy. Forty-two Democrats approved it, while three Republicans voted against it.

“This week’s debate has given us all an opportunity to answer a fundamental question: Are we going to confront the threat of terrorism and defeat it, or will we relent and retreat in the hopes that it just goes away?” said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, calling the Iraq conflict a “war of necessity.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California begged to differ, saying the Bush administration wrongly led the nation to war and was wrong when predicting troops would be warmly received in Iraq.

“Stay the course? I don’t think so, Mr. President. It’s time to face the facts,” she said. “No one has been held accountable for all these mistakes in Iraq.”

All week Democrats said Republicans were being disingenuous for trying to link terrorism with the war.

“The truth is, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11,” said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat.

The House vote followed Thursday’s 93-6 vote to shelve a Senate proposal to pull out troops by the end of the year.

The Republican-written House resolution specifically declares, “It is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment” of troops, and says the U.S. is committed to remaining in Iraq until it is “sovereign, free, secure and united.”

Most of the resolution’s focus, however, is on terrorism, with references to Libya, the Taliban and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

It closes with a declaration the U.S. “will prevail in the global war on terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.”

Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, one of five who voted “present,” said the resolution “misses the point” by declaring the United States will prevail. He also said the debate was too restrictive and didn’t provide a forum for a wide-ranging talk about the campaign in Iraq and the training of Iraqi troops.

“A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote [by him] would have legitimized an effort to effectively avoid the subject,” he said, blaming both parties for politicizing the issue.

Nineteen members did not vote, and there are two vacant seats in the 435-member House.

Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, said he voted for the resolution because he remains hopeful the United States can accomplish its mission and because “the importance of Iraq transcends the cheap and tawdry tactics of the Republican leadership.”

Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said he believes progress is being made in Iraq and that any pullout should be directed by the military on the ground, not politicians.

“To leave right now would create chaos,” he said. “We need to stay and make sure the Iraqis can defend themselves.”

Republicans, using talking points from GOP leaders and from the Pentagon, said they would highlight such Democratic divisions this election year.

Rep. John P. Murtha, a decorated former Marine who opposed the resolution, predicted the debate will spark changing conditions on the ground in Iraq. The Pennsylvania Democrat said the vote signals there is growing support for bringing the troops home.

“I see a dramatic change from November 17th to now,” he said, noting the date he initially proposed a redeployment of troops. “I think we’re getting there.”

Republicans said supporting the troops isn’t enough, and called the resolution an important endorsement of staying the course in Iraq.

Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri outlined his recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and said leaders told him “withdrawing American troops would lead to disaster.”

“I appeal to my colleagues, who live peacefully and safely in the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, not to turn their backs on the leaders of the world’s newest democracy,” he said.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics and crafting a resolution that is nothing more than an “affirmation of President Bush’s failed Iraq policy.”

They also noted that public support for the war has drastically slipped, especially as the United States on Thursday marked the somber statistic of 2,500 troops killed since the battle began in March 2003.

Mr. Boehner said Democrats are failing to recognize a “constant drumbeat of progress,” including the elections, creation of a national constitution and the killing of terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Sen. John Kerry called the actions of both chambers illustrative of a “phony Iraq debate,” complaining that Republicans forced a vote on his troop withdrawal proposal as part of a political game.

“It’s time for a Congress that shares responsibility for getting us into Iraq to take responsibility for helping to get us out and get resources refocused on the war on terror,” the Massachusetts Democrat said, adding he will push for a “real” debate on war policy next week.

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