Jan 11 2007

State lawmakers skeptical about increasing troops

Tuscaloosa News

By Kirsten Korosec


President Bush’s plan to deploy 20,000 troops to Baghdad was met with caution, skepticism and even disdain among some of Alabama’s congressmen on Wednesday.

At least one of the state’s Republican senators distanced himself from the plan -- calling for a detailed explanation as to how more troops would help quell sectarian violence and stabilize the Iraqi government.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said he needed answers before he could support the redeployment of more troops.

“Is our long-term goal to win in Iraq? And how do we define winning?" asked Shelby. “If so how do we achieve winning, how would a surge in troops achieve a goal in winning and what’s our real plan?"

He acknowledged the president could move forward without the approval of Congress.

“The president doesn’t need our approval, he needs the support of the American people, which is becoming more and more critical and more and more doubtful," he said. “He can do that as commander-in-chief, and he’s going to do that anyway."

Sen. Jeff Sessions commended the president for conducting a complete review of the country’s Iraq policy and for recognizing that changes must be made.

Sessions, also a Republican and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement released after the president’s speech that he would be reviewing the recommendations in greater detail and “looked forward to discussing the specifics with Defense Secretary Robert Gates" when he testifies before the committee on Friday.

“A troop increase is a bitter pill to swallow," he said. “But allowing Iraq to become a haven for terrorists is a real threat to our safety and security. Our goal is to succeed in Iraq. If this action will improve our chance to succeed – and at this point I think it will – then I will support the effort."

Shelby took a far more skeptical view and said Wednesday in his office that he doubted sending more troops in without a clear and detailed plan would stabilize the area.

“I’m doubtful," he said. “I see Iraq virtually at the seams."

He stressed that regardless of what happens “tonight, tomorrow, or the next day I believe we must – we in Congress - must support our troops above everything - whether Republicans or Democrats - and I think we will. To make sure they have the best equipment, the best supplies and the best training and we should not send a message that would undermine them."

Democratic Rep. Artur Davis condemned the plan, saying Wednesday night “the president is once again moving in the wrong direction, he ought to be withdrawing 20,000 troops, not putting more in."

But said he would not support a bill Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced that would require Congress to authorize a military surge in troops and additional dollars.

“I don’t think you can segregate the funding for redeployed troops from the current spending," he said. “I’m not going to support it and I think it’s the wrong signal for the Democratic Party to send."

U.S. Representative Bud Cramer, D-Ala., released the following statement after President Bush’s national address on the War in Iraq:

“I hope the President’s new strategy, along with the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations, represent a new beginning for Congress and the Iraq War. It is vital that we have frank discussions with members from both sides of the aisle and the Administration on our country’s future direction in this war.

“It is clear that we cannot continue on our current path in Iraq and rely on the same strategies that aren’t leading to a victory. As a new member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I look forward to our hearings with the new military leaders in charge in the Middle East. Understanding their perspective will be vital in implementing a successful strategy that stabilizes the region."