Domenici wants new, reduced U.S. mission in Iraq

Posted 7/05/2007 12:12:00 PM

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici has decided to support a redeployment of many American troops from Iraq by March 2008 as part of a new, reduced mission in that war-torn country.

The GOP senator from New Mexico announced today that he has decided to cosponsor legislation that would call for the implementation of many of the Iraq Study Group recommendations. The move represents a major shift for Domenici, who up until now has supported President Bush in backing a controversial troop surge and opposing a timetable for withdrawal.

“I am calling for a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations,” Domenici said. “This should result in a significant reduction in combat missions for U.S. troops and place more of a burden where it belongs – on the Iraqis.”

The move is certain to upset Bush allies, but will also bolster Domenici’s re-election bid.

Domenici said he changed his mind over the course of the last two weeks as it became clear that the Iraqi government is not meeting benchmarks that were to accompany the American troop surge. In addition, he spoke recently with the parents of fallen soldiers who urged a policy shift.

Domenici said he continues to support American troops, and his shift doesn’t mean he believes they have failed. But, considering that American troops are suffering and dying, Domenici said he is “unwilling to continue our current strategy” when Iraqis fail “to even make modest progress.”

Under the plan laid out in Senate Bill 1545, “all United States combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be redeployed from Iraq by the first quarter of 2008,” except those that are essential for security, training of Iraqi forces, counterterrorism and “rapid reaction and special operations” as necessary.

Essentially, that would mean that Iraqis would be running the war, with support from the United States, instead of the opposite, which is what’s currently happening.

The bill, which has a bipartisan group of 11 sponsors, also calls for a comprehensive diplomatic, political and economic strategy “that includes sustained engagement with Iraq’s neighbors and the international community for the purpose of working collectively to bring stability to Iraq.”

Domenici said he is “not going to say” the war was a mistake, but said it “didn’t go the way it was planned.”

“It didn’t work in its current role,” he said, adding that it’s not too late to try to bring positive change out of the situation. He’s now trying to make that happen.

“I’m joining with a group of senators that have good ideas,” he said.

Support for Bush strategy eroding

Domenici’s shift follows those of GOP Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich of Ohio, who both said last week that it’s time to begin moving troops out of Iraq. Domenici’s shift is a further sign that Republican support for Bush’s Iraq strategy is eroding.

It also comes as the latest CNN poll finds that two-thirds of Americans, including 38 percent of Republicans, oppose the war, and 63 percent, including 42 percent of Republicans, favor withdrawing at least some troops from Iraq.

The move is certain to help Domenici’s 2008 re-election bid. The newest SurveyUSA poll gave Domenici a 51 percent approval rating – the lowest in the history of the monthly poll that goes back to May 2005. His new approach to the war is certain to resonate in his purple home state.

Domenici has three lesser-known Democratic challengers thus far - Don Wiviott, Jim Hannan and Leland Lehrman – but many suspect that Gov. Bill Richardson, if his presidential campaign fails, could jump into the race, and is perhaps the only Democrat with a real shot at beating Domenici.

Richardson says he’ll keep his job at governor if he doesn’t win the Democratic nomination for president, but he has threatened to run against Domenici in the past.

New Mexico’s two Democrats in Washington – Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall – have long opposed the war. Republican Rep. Heather Wilson was one of the first GOP members to express doubts about Bush’s war strategy, but has, to this point, backed the president.

Republican Rep. Steve Pearce has, from the beginning, been the strongest supporter among the New Mexico delegation of Bush’s strategy. He backed the troop surge and opposed any timetable for withdrawal. After a visit to Iraq in February, he said he was upbeat about the surge, but also said “we must see concrete results in Baghdad.”

The current Bush plan calls for a review of the success of the surge in September. Domenici said at today’s news conference that he wasn’t willing to wait that long when American soldiers are continuing to suffer and it’s already clear that the Iraqi government isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

Update, 3:40 p.m.

The Democrats are on the attack. In a news release, the Democratic Party of New Mexico called Domenici’s shift an “election season political makeover.”

“Why was $440 billion spent before Senator Domenici could acknowledge what Senator Bingaman and Congressman Udall realized more than four years ago?” Party Chairman Brian Colón asked in the release. “… When the U.S. Senate reconvenes, will your rhetoric be backed by meaningful legislative action, or is this just another attempt at a re-election conversion in response to your lowest poll ratings in decades?”

The answer to the second question is easy: Domenici is co-sponsoring the legislation.

Update, 5:10 p.m.

In an interview, Udall said the shift of Domenici and other Republicans “means we’re going to start to wind this down and end this unfortunate conflict.”

He said he has already seen signs that the president knows it’s time to change directions, and said he believes other Republicans who haven’t come out publicly against Bush’s strategy have privately shared such sentiments with the president.

“The writing has been on the wall that many Republicans were going to come around to the position that this is a misguided policy,” Udall said. “I think now that major Republican players have come out for a change, that will show the president that he needs to change direction.”

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At 1:44 PM, July 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another reason of many, for the electorate to reexamine it's support of Representative Pearce and his apparent inability to think for himself.Loyalty to the President may be commendable but his obstinate refusal to listen to the People as more American lives are lost and forever impacted is the pinnacle of arrogance.

At 10:38 AM, July 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the morality play is finally coming to a conclusion. It has been particularly fun to watch the very biggest rats on the ship finally jumping off.


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