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July 17, 2007

Reichert on the war

Posted by David Postman at 12:42 PM

With Congressional Democrats focusing on Iraq this summer, I thought it was a good time to check in with our Republican delegation. We hear more often from Democrats in the delegation, who generally agree with their leadership on questions of war and the surge. But as some Republicans have gone public with new doubts about the president's strategy, it had been too long since I had checked in with GOP members Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings. Here's what I learned from a long interview with Reichert. (Watch for the others later this week.)

Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, says Democrats are politicizing the Iraq war by repeatedly voting on withdrawal resolution. He thinks Republican senators who have recently called for a change of course — at least those up for re-election next year — are also injecting domestic political considerations into war planning. At this point, the second-term congressman will not abide anything that interrupts Gen. David Petraeus' surge.

"When you try to dismantle a plan that has been put in place before it has the opportunity to come to fruition you are politicizing the effort and you make it difficult."

Reichert still firmly supports President Bush. The congressman is a former sheriff. When he talks about the war he frequently relates it to police work. And in this case he sees parallels between the criticism aimed at Bush and his most famous case, the hunt for the Green River Killer.

"During Green River we were just hammered on by the press and the community and I got hammered by people and criticized and I just feel some of the same pressures are being applied to the president."

What's new about Reichert's view of the war is that he sees a day coming when it could be time to force a change in the course of the war. He wants to wait at least until September when Petraeus is due to give a full progress report on the surge. There are still only a handful of Republicans who would vote to end the surge today. But more and more Republicans are looking to the end of summer to change course. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on TV this week:

I think everybody anticipates that there's going to be a new strategy in the fall. I don't think we'll have the same level of troops, in all likelihood, that we have now.

So by September there may be an easy consensus that a new direction is needed. But as he looks two months down the line, Reichert has yet to soften his rhetoric about Democratic opposition to the surge.

"To me it feels like very much like General Pelosi wants to run this war. I have my faith in General Patreaus. ... I know this surge has been slowly building and they have been deploying troops but his full surge deployment was not complete until June 15. His first report on progress was July 15. There has been progress. But there has not been enough progress. We all expected more and I'm disappointed in that."

Democratic-sponsored votes on the war — and there may be at least one a week and sometimes two until Congress leaves this summer — look like "meddling" to Reichert. But if come September Iraqis continue to miss benchmarks and evidence of a successful surge is lacking, it'll be time for Republicans, too, to speak up. Again, Reichert uses a police analogy about what would happen if he were the SWAT commander on a troublesome mission.

"At some point, if I'm not making any progress the sheriff will come to me and say, 'Lieutenant, what's going on?' And if I don't have the right answers, the direction is going to change."

Even at that point, though, Reichert will look for middle ground between surging and withdrawing. He says the Iraqi government may never feel it is strong enough to govern the country without the presence of U.S. troops. But, Reichert said, "we're going to have to slowly withdraw, giving them more and more of that responsibility and putting them on the hot seat for maintaining control, peace and order in their country."

He suggested the first moves would be to "retreat a little and move out of the intense center of the battle." Until then, Reichert will keep doing what he's doing and he says:

"It will be unpopular for a while."

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