Springfield State Journal Register

January 11, 2007

Durbin: Americans oppose escalation of war

Illinois Democrat gives response to president's address

WASHINGTON - Giving the Democratic rebuttal to President Bush's new Iraq war strategy, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin on Wednesday harshly criticized the plan for placing more American lives at risk with little chance of stabilizing Iraq.

"The escalation of his war is not the change that the American people called for in the last election," Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said in his nationally televised remarks. "Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction.

"Twenty-thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost," he said. "The Iraqis must understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges that lie ahead. And they must know that every time they call 9-1-1 we are not going to send 20,000 more American soldiers."

Durbin, a longtime critic of the Bush administration's war policies, reiterated his call for an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

It wasn't the first time that the Illinois senator has provided his party's official response to the president. As minority whip, Durbin last May spoke out against the president's immigration initiative.

However, now that Democrats control both the House and the Senate, Durbin's words carry added weight. The choice to have him give the official Democratic response was made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Earlier in the day, Reid, Durbin and other congressional leaders were briefed by Bush at the White House. They complained that Bush hadn't consulted them until after he'd already drafted his speech.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was part of a bipartisan group of senators invited to the White House last week. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, was in a group of House Republicans that met with Bush on Tuesday.

Emerging from the White House, Durbin said Bush at times appeared defensive and less certain about Iraq than in the past.

"For the first time ever, he and others at the table from the administration expressed frustration with (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki's government," the senator said. "I have never heard that before. He has been such a cheerleader for al-Maliki."

"The president I thought today was less confident than he has been in the past," Durbin said. "When he would speak of Iraq in the past, it was with a measure of confidence."

"I think today he understands not only the American Congress but the American people have real questions about his leadership on this issue."


Dori Meinert can be reached at 202-737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.