With deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq continuing and worries about the costs of occupation reaching a new intensity, Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee just back from a three-day tour of the country said Thursday that the American people must remain resolved and gird themselves for a long-term commitment to establish order there.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the committee, who voted against last October’s congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, said the American people must “retain the willpower, the common resolution to finish this job.”
“I’m glad the president yesterday said we’re going to be in Iraq for a significant period of time with significant forces,” he added. “I believe that was long overdue. It’s important that the American people be prepared for the long haul.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, struck a similar note.
“This is a long and difficult journey that we have to continue on together as a people, as a Congress, and as a nation,” Rockefeller told reporters at a Capitol press conference.
“I don’t think there’s any chance we cannot succeed at this — unless the Congress and the American people are not talked to in very straight terms... that this will take time,” Rockefeller said. “It’s going to take money, it’s going to take resolve.”
He added, “Americans do not necessarily have long attention spans.”
As news reports continue to come in of U.S. troops being killed and wounded in guerilla attacks, Rockefeller said, “my constituents will begin to chafe — and that’s why the president needs to — all of us need to — talk about the importance of resolve. Resolve is the most important word to the United States military out there. It’s the single most important concept, psychological mindset, that they need from America.”
And he warned that foreign governments were watching closely to see if the United States succeeded in “doing Iraq correctly” — reconstructing the country and establishing the rule of law. Foreign leaders are wondering, Rockefeller said, “are the Americans willing to stay the course?”
Levin urged the Bush administration to appeal to France, Germany, Canada and other nations to supply troops to keep order in Iraq and relieve the burden on over-stretched American soldiers.
“We must end the feud with Germany, France, the UN. We must seek the help of those countries... Our troops are stretched very thin. We need the participation of other countries for that reason alone,” he said.
Levin said, “we ought to get involved with some reconciliation with those countries that weren’t with us going in. They have a stake in the success of this. Everybody loses if the Baathist remnants are able to create chaos and disorder in Iraq. ... The stakes here are huge, the need for success is important for all of us.”
“I don’t think Germany, France, Canada or anyone else is going to say, ‘Hey, you guys, you went it alone and we’re not going to help you,’” he added. “It’s in no one’s interest — and they know it — that chaos return to Iraq.”
Levin worried that U.S. troops are now “too much of a target. We’re too visible in Iraq. We’re the guys that knocked off the Baathists — they’re bad guys, they are going to try to kill us, create disorder, and try to do after the war what they could not do during the war.”
The Baathist diehards, he said, are “a hell of a lot less likely to be shooting at a German soldier wearing a U.N. uniform than at an American.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Intelligence Committee said U.S. commanders in Iraq told the Senate delegation that the current U.S. deployment of 171,000 troops in Iraq was sufficient. “The key in my view will be to develop a rotation plan to keep our troops fresh,” Roberts told reporters.
He said if 30,000 to 50,000 international troops can supplement the U.S. forces, plus Iraqi police officers, then “we will have enough boots on the ground.”
“To a man, the soldiers, airmen and Marines told us they don’t care so much how long they’ll be in Iraq, so long as they know when they’ll be rotating home.”
TROOPS OVER-EXTENDED Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., who also had opposed the invasion, said the Bush administration needed to pour in more non-military resources to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure and provide social services.
“It’s not a lack of effort by the military at all,” Dayton said. “They’re staging raids at night and then turning around and rebuilding schools and clearing away trash by day. They’re overextended and we don’t have the backup capabilities that should have been foreseen and planned for.”
Dayton cited continued electrical outages and a dire shortage of Arabic-speaking interpreters to help U.S. forces keep order.
“The Iraqi people desperately want us to win,” Dayton said. “They have high expectations for us. They think we’re omnipotent, they think we’re compassionate. So when see some of the lack of progress, then they conclude ... we’re not going to be successful. We’ve got to bring this effort into overdrive immediately.”
Levin, Rockefeller and other Democrats indicated that despite their skepticism of how Bush may have used intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq, they are now determined to see that the occupation be successful.
On the question of whether weapons of mass destruction — or facilities for assembling them — will ever be found, Roberts offered a tantalizing tidbit. “There’s going to be breaking positive news on that front,” in the next few weeks, he predicted.
‘BRING THEM ON’ FUROR Bush sparked a furor Wednesday by the phrasing he used when he said the attacks on U.S. forces would not shake his determination to restore order in Iraq.
“There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on,” Bush said.
Democratic presidential contender Rep. Dick Gephardt denounced Bush’s tone. “Enough of the phony, macho rhetoric,” Gephardt said. “We should be focused on a long-term security plan that reduces the danger to our military personnel.”
Another Democratic contender, former Vermont governor Howard Dean said Bush had “provoked Iraqi militants targeting our soldiers. ... This was incredibly reckless rhetoric.”
Bush, Dean said, had shown “tremendous insensitivity” to the dangers American forces face in Iraq.
But no prominent Democrat — either in Congress or outside — seems yet to have devised a strategy for exploiting the Iraq issue to damage Bush’s chances of re-election next year.
Even Dean, an outspoken opponent of the decision to invade Iraq — and of Democrats such as Gephardt who supported the invasion — now says the United States must not withdraw its troops.