Feb 04 2007

Shelby, in Somerville, says Iraq war knocks BRAC off schedule

Decatur Daily

By Ronnie Thomas


U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said the federal government’s huge investment in the Iraq war means the Base Realignment and Closure Commission will not be able to keep its current schedule.

Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said Saturday that there is $3 billion for BRAC in a continuing resolution Congress passed, but BRAC needs $6 billion.

“We’re not going to get it now,” he said, “but I will do everything I can to make sure it’s funded. The first items to be funded will deal with sustaining our forces — where they will train, and where they will be based when they come home. The other will go for building laboratories and facilities at Redstone Arsenal and other places.”

Shelby spoke during a one-hour town hall meeting at the Somerville Courthouse. It was his first visit to the community.

Cities in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties anticipate a growth spurt from BRAC employees transferring to Redstone.

“It (BRAC) will get done,” Shelby said. “But it won’t be without a fight. Be patient. I’m bullish on this area.”

Shelby said that the fight for Iraq remains frustrating, conceding that the Bush administration made huge mistakes.

“They didn’t listen to the chief of staff of the Army when he told them we would need at least 200,000 troops to garrison, disarm and occupy Iraq,” Shelby said. “I support the administration, but I don’t support them blindly.”

Shelby, who serves on the Defense Appropriations Committee, said the other mistake was disarming the Iraqi army rather than culling it, which led to the creation of thousands of terrorists.

“It’s a bad neighborhood, a tough situation,” he said, “and the question is can we salvage it. I don’t know, but what I don’t question is the support of our troops. We’ve had a lot of people from Alabama to go over two and three times, and that’s asking a lot. I’m not ever going to vote in any way for any resolution that would be construed in any ambiguous way that I don’t support the troops.”

Shelby said that Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a presidential candidate, said Bush was on his own.

“We can’t let a president be on his own,” Shelby said. “He’s commander-in-chief of the Army, and I took issue with that, and I’ll take issue next week on it.”

Shelby said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new commander in Iraq, told him he believes that 20,000 additional troops Bush is asking for will stabilize Baghdad and make a difference.

“He said what we need to do is a better job of training Iraqi police and the Iraqi army to defend themselves and get the heck out,” Shelby said.

The senator said that if America isn’t successful in Iraq, Iran will fill the vacuum.

“We’re going to be challenged all over the world,” he said. “Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is not going away. They have a high birth rate, high unemployment, and they’re teaching hatred of the West, starting with us. It will be with us for 100 years.”