Portland Paper Backs GOP Senator’s Call for Dramatic Iraq Shift

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By: E&P Staff

As the national debate over Iraq, in the media and in Washington, continues in the wake of the Iraq Study Group report, a Republican U.S. Senator from Oregon has joined the fray in an unexpected way. Today, the largest newspaper in his stated backed his stand in an editorial.

“It is a moment when the president must acknowledge what is obvious even to his former supporters in the U.S. Senate,” the editorial concludes. “It is time to reset American policy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

“There is more virtue in admitting a mistake than there is in repeating it, over and over.”

In a major speech in Congress on Thursday night, Sen. Gordon Smith called the current sitution surrounding the U.S. war effort “absurd,” perhaps even “criminal” and called for rapid pullouts. He added that he would have never voted for the conflict if he had reason to believe the intelligence the president gave the American people was inaccurate.

Citing the hundreds of billions of dollars spent and more than 2900 Americans deaths — and saying he needed to “speak from the heart” — Smith said, “I for one am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. So either we clear and hold and build or let’s go home.”

Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Republican defeated in November, cited Smith’s speech in suggesting that support for the war is crumbling. Smith’s statement “is political dynamite,” Chafee asserted.

Smith had said the U.S. military’s “tactics have failed” and he “cannot support that anymore….We have paid a price in blood and treasure that is beyond calculation” for a war waged due to bad intelligence….I, for one, am tired of paying the price of 10 or more of our troops dying a day. So let’s cut and run or cut and walk, but let us fight the war on terror more intelligently that we have because we have fought this war in a very lamentable way.”

Today, The Oregonian in Portland backed his turnaround in an editorial. Excerpts follow.
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While Smith used blunt language — “let’s cut and run, or cut and walk, or let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have” — his remarks didn’t signal as abrupt a break as it might have appeared.

He acknowledged Thursday that he had voted to allow the president to invade, that he had hoped U.S. forces would find secret caches of weapons of mass destruction, that he was thrilled by the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein and was heartened by the way Iraqis turned out to vote three times in national elections.

But after he visited Oregon National Guard troops near Kirkuk in March last year, he said, “We can be a counterproductive force for Iraqi democracy if we are there longer than is necessary. My own hunch is somewhere between 18 months to two years, the American presence in Iraq will be much reduced.”

It’s been 18 months and the presence hasn’t been reduced at all. Nor is a functional central government much closer to asserting itself. Nor is the Iraqi economy any stronger. Nor are U.S. troops dying any less frequently. And more Iraqis are being killed each month than ever.

As a partial explanation for why he chose to speak now, Smith harked back to his visit to the Kirkuk region. He said one soldier told him: “Senator, don’t tell me you support the troops and not our mission.” That, the senator said, gave him pause.

But 18 months later, with billions of dollars flushed away, thousands more bodies under the ground and no end in sight, the senator’s pause is over.

His comments strengthen his hand in advance of his 2008 re-election campaign. They would seem to place him closer to the position of voters who kicked his party out of power last month and certainly closer to the sentiments of most of blue-state Oregon.

But personal political calculations aside, the timing of Smith’s remarks helped to increase the pressure on President Bush to break with his policies of the last 18 months. The election results, the ouster of Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary in favor of a man who says America is not winning in Iraq and the arrival of the Iraq Study Group report make this a propitious moment in our political history.

It is a moment when the president must acknowledge what is obvious even to his former supporters in the U.S. Senate. It is time to reset American policy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

There is more virtue in admitting a mistake than there is in repeating it, over and over.

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