- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin has firmed his stance against the Iraq war by demanding an immediate troop withdrawal and now faces criticism from his rivals in Maryland’s U.S. Senate race for “pandering” to anti-war voters and jeopardizing the war effort.

“Start the process now,” Mr. Cardin, a Democrat, said in a campaign speech last week at Towson University. “We don’t need a time schedule, but we should start redeploying now so it is a clear signal to the international community [and] a clear signal to the Iraqis that they need to take responsibility for the defense of their own country. We need to do that now.”

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican nominee for senator, called Mr. Cardin’s comments “irresponsible.”

“It is pandering to a political mind-set that would … endanger our soldiers for a political price,” Mr. Steele said. “I don’t think it is worth playing politics here at home to put our troops in harm’s way in Iraq.”

President Bush has said that he opposes major changes to the Iraq war plan.

Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore, has made his vote against the Iraq invasion the cornerstone of his campaign and often cites it as an example of how he “stood up toPresident Bush.”

Still, he has moved his anti-war position steadily to the left from early calls for a “new strategy” in Iraq to his recent support of an immediate exit for troops.

“Mr. Cardin needs to decide what exactly he thinks the policy in Iraq should be,” Mr. Steele said. “He’s always said that he didn’t want a timetable, now he has called for one. He didn’t want immediate withdrawal, now he has called for one. I don’t know which Ben Cardin we should expect tomorrow.”

Mr. Cardin’s redeployment plan also drew criticism from anti-war activist Kevin Zeese, the Senate nominee of the Green, Libertarian and Populist parties.

“His election-year rhetoric is inconsistent with his voting record on Iraq,” said Mr. Zeese, who advocates a complete troop withdrawal within six months. “He’s voted for staying the course, and now he comes up with a vague plan for withdrawal.”

He noted that Mr. Cardin repeatedly voted to fund the Iraq war and voted against a measure that would have compelled Mr. Bush to come up with an exit strategy for the war.

The Cardin campaign declined to respond to Mr. Zeese’s comments.

“The differences between Ben Cardin and Michael Steele on the war in Iraq are crystal clear,” Cardin campaign spokesman Oren Shur said. “Cardin voted against the war; Steele supported it. Cardin has called for a change of course in Iraq; Steele supports the president’s failed policies that got us into this mess.”

In his Towson University speech, Mr. Cardin also called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and criticized the lieutenant governor for supporting the war plan.

He said that Mr. Steele and Mr. Bush “cannot acknowledge mistakes and cannot acknowledge when we need to change in order to be able to have a successful completion of what we have done in Iraq.”

“I believe we need change,” Mr. Cardin said. “Michael Steele believes in the status quo.”

Mr. Steele, who since last year has advocated a new war strategy, said calling for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation was “political hyperbole.”

“I think [Mr. Rumsfeld] can do better,” Mr. Steele said Friday after opening a Thanksgiving food drive for the poor in Baltimore.

Mr. Cardin said U.S. troops in Iraq could be replaced by the “international community.”

He proposed convening an international conference to broker peace in Iraq and negotiate a cease-fire to sectarian violence there. Nongovernmental organizations should take over the job of rebuilding Iraq, Mr. Cardin said.

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