Canton Repository

March 19, 2006

Lawmakers ask: Where do we go from here?

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Three years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, area Republican lawmakers remain hopeful that the United States can bring the Iraq war to an end by helping the country develop a strong, stable and democratic government.

Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and Bob Ney, R-Heath, also continue to support President Bush in his insistence on keeping troops in the country as long as necessary.

Area Democratic lawmakers are far more pessimistic about the prospects for peace and success under Bush’s leadership. At the same time, they acknowledge that Democrats have not united behind a clear alternative to the Bush policy.

“I think we will make progress,” Regula said Friday when asked what he expects in Iraq over the next year. “The degree of progress ... that is hard to predict.”

Regula anticipates “even more diligent efforts to get the Iraqis to be responsible in both policing as well as security. I think that’s basically the Bush policy.” He said he has no idea to what extent the administration will be able to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq this year.

Ney came away from his first visit to Iraq in December convinced the United States has corrected some initial mistakes and is making better progress than he thought.

“Like all Americans, Bob Ney would like our troops to come home as soon as possible,” Brian Walsh, Ney’s spokesman, said Friday. “However, the policy of cut-and-run like some such as (House Democratic Leader) Nancy Pelosi and (Democratic National Committee Chairman) Howard Dean have proposed would do a grave injustice to those who have sacrificed so much and do irreparable harm to America’s efforts to win the war on terror.”

Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, see little chance of success as long as Bush pursues what they view as a fatally flawed approach.

“I would like to be hopeful and see improvement, but the administration continues the same policy where we have valiant troops and incompetent civilian leadership out of Washington,” said Brown, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Strickland, a candidate for governor, fears the situation in Iraq “could even be worse a year from now.”

“As long as the president refuses to consider options that are different from the course he has already set out for this country, we’re going to have more of the same — more dead, more wounded soldiers, more of our national resources going to this effort while neglecting needs here at home,” he said.

The lawmakers’ starkly contrasting assessments were reflected in their reaction to a massive airborne helicopter raid carried out Thursday to round up insurgents outside Baghdad.

Regula praised the assault, saying it indicates “the decision has been made we are going to get very aggressive in trying to pacify the situation. And that’s part of the overall plan of turning it over to Iraqi forces that we are training.”

Brown denounced it.

“I’m troubled that the administration thinks escalating an attack, especially from the air, can bring democracy to a country,” he said.

Democrats have called on Bush to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, which they say would spur the Iraqis to take control of their own country. Regula and Ney continue to oppose a timetable, which they believe would encourage the insurgents.

Regula denied that the effort is a failure and counseled patience.

“If we were failing then we would not have had the successes with the elections,” he said, referring to widespread participation in the Dec. 15 vote to elect a permanent national assembly. “They’re moving from a dictatorship where one person had life or death power over people ... to a democracy or an elected legislative body. And a transition like that isn’t going to happen overnight.”

If Hussein were still in power, Regula believes he would be causing trouble.

“Had he not been checkmated he would have taken every opportunity with money and people to create grief for the United States,” he said. “I think he would have been very strong in support of financing and training and supporting terrorism.”

Strickland, however, doubts there will be any progress unless Bush admits his errors.

“I think we’ve got to have an acknowledgment that we made a huge, huge mistake and that we have created a situation that ... has made this country less safe,” he said. “We have inflamed a huge part of the world, we have basically attacked a country, a culture. And unfortunately many people think that we’ve also attacked a religion.”