Ge­or­gia Democrats con­flicted on Iraq progress

The Covington News - - Local news -

WASH­ING­TON - Demo­cratic Rep. David Scott of At­lanta ut­ters three words not of­ten heard from politi­cians when he’s asked about his op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Bush’s troop “surge” in Iraq last year: “I was wrong.”

“I think in all hon­esty one has to give the pres­i­dent credit where credit is due,” Scott said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “He rec­om­mended the surge, and the surge has worked. ... You gotta be man enough to say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’”

Other Ge­or­gia Democrats say not so fast. They ar­gue it’s far from cer­tain that Iraqi leaders can ac­com­plish the long-term po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that the new strat­egy was sup­posed to cre­ate. They also say the de­ci­sion came years too late and at too great a cost to the mil­i­tary.

“I can’t say whether it has or it hasn’t” worked, said Rep. John Bar­row, a Sa­van­nah Demo­crat. “The Iraqis are the ones who have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to bring about an end to the civil war and only they have the power to do so. ... I do not re­gret the vote.”

Bar­row and Scott were among five Ge­or­gia Democrats in Congress who voted against Bush’s de­ci­sion — an­nounced in Jan­uary 2007 — to send some 30,000 ad­di­tional troops into the most trou­bled ar­eas of Iraq.

With a sur­pris­ingly sharp drop in vi­o­lence since the move, the Democrats are now on the de­fen­sive against GOP crit­i­cism that they were too ea­ger to pull the plug on the five-year war.

Vi­o­lence in Iraq is at its low­est level in years, and key ar­eas such as An­bar prov­ince, the birth­place of al-Qaida in Iraq, have been turned over to Iraqi con­trol. The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion says Iraqi leaders have made “sat­is­fac­tory” progress on 15 of 18 bench­marks for re­build­ing and that troops will be­gin with­draw­ing next year.

Bush’s sup­port­ers ac­knowl­edge that many fac­tors be­sides the “surge” con­trib­uted to the progress — such as lo­cal Sun­nis turn­ing against al-Qaida in Iraq. But they say it wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble without the ex­tra forces.

Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, a Repub­li­can from Moul­trie, said Democrats missed an op­por­tu­nity to sup­port the war ef­fort and are now deny­ing the re­al­ity on the ground.

“I think without ques­tion it has worked. All you have to do is look at the level of vi­o­lence over there to­day ver­sus six months ago,” said Cham­b­liss, who re­luc­tantly sup­ported Bush’s de­ci­sion af­ter get­ting as­sur­ances that the ex­tra troops be nar­rowly fo­cused. “If folks are still try­ing to make ex­cuses that it may not be work­ing, they’re liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent world.”

Rep. Jim Mar­shall of Ma­con, the only Ge­or­gia Demo­crat who sup­ported the es­ca­la­tion, said “the surge clearly suc­ceeded,” call­ing the gains “real but frag­ile.”

“Re­newed sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence can cer­tainly re­verse it,” Mar­shall said. “Al-Qaida alone can­not.”

Bush ac­knowl­edged con­tin­ued con­cerns about Iraq’s volatil­ity on Tues­day as he an­nounced that he will keep U.S. troop lev­els largely in­tact un­til next year. The pres­i­dent said about 8,000 com­bat and sup­port troops will re­turn home by Fe­bru­ary.

The mod­est re­duc­tion, which would leave about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through the end of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, drew fresh crit­i­cism from Democrats that the war has dragged on for too long.

“Noth­ing dis­turbs me more than to see that th­ese young men and women are still serv­ing in Iraq, and some are go­ing over there three or four times,” said Rep. John Lewis, an At­lanta Demo­crat who op­posed the war from the beginning. “I voted against the surge and I have no re­gret about that. ... This was a war of choice, not a war of ne­ces­sity, and in the long run we have cre­ated more prob­lems than we have solved.”

Rep. San­ford Bishop, a Demo­crat from Al­bany, also stood by his op­po­si­tion to the ad­di­tional troops. He said Iraqi leaders still have not agreed on crit­i­cal is­sues such as oil-shar­ing that could spark a new wave of vi­o­lence. Bishop also said many Democrats would have backed the de­ci­sion if Bush had agreed to more spe­cific time­lines.

“We have heard the me­dia talk­ing about the suc­cess of the surge, but the surge was not the ul­ti­mate goal,” Bishop said. “The surge was to re­duce vi­o­lence and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment to reach the other bench­marks.”

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