Feb 21 2007

Shelby says he’d like to send even more troops to Iraq

Tuscaloosa News

By Tommy Stevenson

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said Tuesday that he is firmly behind President George W. Bush’s surge of about 20,000 additional troops into Iraq.

“I wish we had 100,000 troops, not 20,000, but we don’t have them," the Republican from Tuscaloosa said after a luncheon at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and Tuscaloosa Rotary Club.

“We’ll know in six or seven months whether it is going to work and if it doesn’t, we will have to go the next step," he said, without specifying that step. “But I am going to support the president and the troops."

Meanwhile, in an interview with The Tuscaloosa News’ editorial board Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama’s junior Republican senator, said he also supported the troop escalation.

“I think that things are not going well in Iraq and we needed a complete review and Bush correctly concluded that more troops are needed in Baghdad," Sessions said. “Eighty percent of the violence in Iraq is within 50 miles of Baghdad and for us to pull out would create chaos."

The Senate, which is on break this week, is deadlocked over whether to consider Democratic resolutions opposing the escalation. Shelby and Sessions said they would not join with some of their GOP colleagues to give the Democrats the 60 votes they need to bring the resolutions up for debate.

“We’re not going to let them vote against the troops," Shelby said.

“All [the Democrats] are doing is making an attempt to embarrass Bush or distance themselves from his policies," Sessions added.

In a wide-ranging talk and question-and-answer period as part of a series of town meetings in west Alabama on Tuesday, Shelby said it is important for the United States and its allies to prevail in Iraq, because if they don’t, “Iran will fill the vacuum and that’s not good if you’ve studied the history of the whole area.

“They are looking for dominance of the whole area, including two-thirds of all the oil in the world."

But Shelby said Iran is not the only problem the west faces in the coming years.

“Whatever happens in Iraq, and we will get out of there at some point, we’re going to be in a struggle with Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism for probably 50 or 100 years," he said.

“And [terrorism] is going to visit us again," he said. “I pray we won’t have terrorists attacks in this county, but I know we will. I pray we won’t see children and other people blown up here, but we will.

“We live in a tough, challenged, troubled world and I think we are going to have to increase the size of our armed forces because we’ve got challenges around the world."

Shelby said there are troubling underlying economic problems plaguing the United States.

“We’re importing a lot more than we’re exporting," he said. “Collectively, we had a trade deficit of three quarters of a trillion dollars last year.

“That is a debt we can not sustain," he said. “We are living above our means and we need to talk about that."

In answer to a question, Shelby said that an economically rising China, which holds much of America’s debt, presents both good and bad possibilities.

“I believe China will be our biggest challenge, our biggest opportunity and perhaps our biggest threat, economically and ultimately militarily, down the road," he said.

Asked about the debate over global warming, Shelby said, “we should listen to the scientists," although he did say there is a possibility that the current warming trend is part of a natural cycle.

Shelby also conducted town meetings in Fayette, Greensboro, Linden, Uniontown and Brent on Tuesday as part of his pledge to hold such meetings in every one of Alabama’s 67 counties every year.