Springfield State Journal Register

September 24, 2003

Political leaders from Illinois react along partisan lines


WASHINGTON - Illinois Republicans praised President Bush's speech Tuesday before the United Nations.

But the state's Democrats questioned whether Bush's address was enough to persuade other nations to share the burden in Iraq.

"The impact of that speech won't be known until the members of the U.N. react," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "If they're prepared to help us with troops and money, then the president's speech was a success."

Bush appeared to reject calls by France and Germany to speed up transfer of power to the Iraqis, but behind-the-scenes meetings continue this week.

"I think the real proof is not his speech, but whether we're prepared to share the responsibility for creating a stable political environment in Iraq. But if the administration continues to insist on its own timetables ... then I'm afraid this is going nowhere," Durbin said.

Democratic Rep. Lane Evans, whose district includes part of Springfield, also took a wait-and-see approach.

"President Bush had to get U.N. members involved with more money and troops in Iraq, and it's unclear whether he was able to accomplish that," Evans said.

Meanwhile, such Republican leaders as House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Yorkville, called Bush's address "comprehensive and compelling" and lauded his leadership in the war against terrorism.

"Now, the international community needs to step up to the plate and help the United States finish the job," he said.

Hastert called on the president's critics to say what they would have done differently.

"Would they have left Saddam Hussein to his own devices? Would they have allowed the Taliban to continue its brutal rule?" asked Hastert.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., also applauded Bush "for his continued effort in enlisting the nations of the world to take a firm stand against terrorism by working to ensure the full independence of Iraq."

"He was right to note that the United States and other nations must stay the course to allow democracy to prevail in the Middle East. This is no time to blink and allow those who spread chaos to prevail over those who seek order," Fitzgerald said.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who read but didn't watch Bush's speech in New York, said he's glad that the president is reaching out to other countries.

"We can't continue to help Iraq rebuild and stabilize and win the war on terrorism by ourselves. We need to help with financing the effort and rebuilding. We need to get the world community on board," LaHood said.

Of a briefing by Secretary of State Colin Powell last week, LaHood said, "I got the distinct impression they were going to accommodate some of the concerns that had been expressed, particularly by France and Germany. Even though not explicit in the speech, I think Secretary Powell will be working very hard and paying attention to the concerns of those countries that want some sort of exit strategy."

"I think the speech is the launching pad, but the hard work is being done by Secretary Powell," LaHood added.

Recent polls show declining support for the president's postwar handling of Iraq.

But LaHood predicted it will be the economy - not Iraq - that will be the issue next year during the presidential campaign.

"I don't hear a lot of angst in my district about Iraq and our involvement there. I hear a lot more concern about prescription drugs, the high cost of health insurance and the fact that people are being laid off and also the erosion of the industrial base," said LaHood, who had urged his party leaders not to postpone reauthorization of a transportation bill that he believes will create jobs and stimulate the economy. Instead, Congress is preparing to extend the current bill until next spring.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he was pleased with the president's speech.

"After the second attack on U.N. headquarters, I think the U.N. really has to ask itself: Do they want to be relevant in this war on terrorism?"