Two senators campaigning for their party’s nomination for president reiterated their drastically different positions on the war in Iraq when they received their report from an independent commission about progress being made by Iraqi Security Forces.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that President Bush’s surge of 21,500 troops to Iraq had been successful, but political reconciliation was the key to reducing sectarian violence in Iraq. Jones was called to the committee to testify on behalf of his 20-member independent commission of retired military brass created by Congress to evaluate the progress of Iraqi Security Forces. The commission’s report was released on September 6. Jones appeared before the committee that day to relay the commission’s findings.
Leading presidential contenders Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y), both members of the committee, interpreted information about the surge and political reconciliation differently.
McCain believed precipitously withdrawing troops from Iraq would undo progress made that could lead to political reconciliation and in turn, hurt the United States. McCain asked: “If we have a set date for withdrawal, as we have debated on the floor of the Senate and will probably again, do you believe that that would be in the United States’ interest in the region?”
Jones told McCain, “Deadlines can work against us. And a deadline of this magnitude would work against our national interests.”
McCain also took a shot against his anti-war Senate colleagues: “There’s a lot of people who are armchair generals who reside in the air conditioned comfort of Capitol Hill who somehow would not trust the judgment of the finest leaders our nation has produced.”
McCain, who is ranking member of the committee, came into the hearing fresh from the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire carried by Fox News Wednesday evening. In the debate, McCain did well among focus groups by emphasizing his foreign policy credentials and experience as a war veteran. During the debate, McCain foreshadowed a contentious fight in the Senate over a withdrawal date.
Clinton, however, struggled to see the point of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq without a commitment of reconciliation from the Iraqi government.
“At the end of the day we have to make judgments on whether or not we believe continuing military presence by American troops, whether they are here or whether they are in Iraq for a day, a year or ten years will make any difference to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people,” Clinton told the general.
“And, I obviously have reached a conclusion I don’t see that difference occurring,” Clinton said. “I don’t see the Iraqi government responding. And, if we take away deadlines, we take away benchmarks, we take away timelines, what is the urgency that will move them to act?”
Without those threats to the Iraqi government, Clinton concluded, “We are not going to see any difference in twelve to eighteen months.”