Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Skelton: Don’t expect too much from Bush announcement

By Rick Maze
Staff writer

The new House Armed Services Committee chairman said Monday he fears too much is being made of the expected Wednesday announcement by President Bush of a new strategy for Iraq, a plan expected to include a surge of U.S. troops in hopes to getting sectarian violence under control.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, who assumed the armed services committee chairmanship last week when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, said the U.S. tried to increase troop levels last year to provide stability so that Iraqi forces could replace U.S. combat units. That didn’t work, he said, and his expectations for this new plan working are also dim. The last surge, he said, “did no good whatsoever.”

He made the remarks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion on U.S. policy in Iraq.

Skelton said this isn’t the first major decision facing the administration and Congress, and it won’t be the last.

“Let’s not put any more spotlight on this decision than on those in the past,” he said, talking about what he views as serious mistakes — such as not having enough troops after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled, firing all Saddam supporters from the government, and releasing the entire Iraqi military.

Instead of increasing troop levels, Skelton said he would like the administration to try something new, like beginning to withdraw small numbers of U.S. combat troops just to show the Iraqi government that someday it will have to get by without them.

Skelton said he does not want to be a defeatist, and is not advocating a withdrawal of U.S. forces under any circumstances. “We don’t know when and if this could end in the Middle East, and that is why I am concerned we have a positive outcome in Iraq,” Skelton said.

Options for Congress if Bush orders a troop increase are few, Skelton said. Congress could cut off funding for the war, but he said that was unlikely because it would be “injurious” to deployed troops. Congress could order a cap on funding, such as on how much could be spent or on what money could be spent. This has been done in the past to cap the number of troops in Latin America involved in the war on drugs, but Skelton said he was unaware of anyone seriously proposing such a limit. Lastly, he said, Congress could have hearings to ask questions about the policy and its expected outcome. Hearings are already planned, he said.

There is some concern about how Democrats will respond the Bush’s speech on Iraq.

“Congress cannot win the struggle on its own, but Congress can lose the struggle,” said Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, who said he is worried about how Democratic criticism of Iraq strategy is emboldening terrorists and insurgents who may believe political disagreement increases the chance that the U.S. will give up.

That does not mean everything the Bush administration has done and will do is right, Thornberry said. He is disappointed, for example, with the U.S. government’s effort to rebuild Iraq, and worries this is another mission that will end up falling to the military.

“In a political and ideological struggle, we are not fielding a full team,” he said.


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