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Democratic Party may unite on "strategc redeployment" out of Iraq

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2006/02/20/democrats_may_unite_on_plan_to_pull_troops/ Democrats may unite on plan to pull troops See
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20, 2006

      Democrats may unite on plan to pull troops
      See Iraq withdrawal, deployment in region

      By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | February 20, 2006

      WASHINGTON -- After months of trying unsuccessfully to
      develop a common message on the war in Iraq,
      Democratic Party leaders are beginning to coalesce
      around a broad plan to begin a quick withdrawal of US
      troops and install them elsewhere in the region, where
      they could respond to emergencies in Iraq and help
      fight terrorism in other countries.

      The concept, dubbed ''strategic redeployment," is
      outlined in a slim, nine-page report coauthored by a
      former Reagan administration assistant Defense
      secretary, Lawrence J. Korb, in the fall. It sets a
      goal of a phased troop withdrawal that would take
      nearly all US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007,
      although many Democrats disagree on whether troop
      draw-downs should be tied to a timeline.

      Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee chairman,
      has endorsed Korb's paper and begun mentioning it in
      meetings with local Democratic groups. In addition,
      the study's concepts have been touted by the senator
      assigned to bring Democrats together on Iraq -- Jack
      Reed of Rhode Island -- and the report has been
      circulated among all senators by Senator Dianne
      Feinstein, an influential moderate Democrat from

      The party remains divided on some points, including
      how much detail to include in a party-produced
      document, fearful of giving too much fodder for
      attacks by Republicans.

      But in its broad outlines, many leading Democrats say
      the Korb plan represents an answer to Republicans'
      oft-repeated charge that Democrats aren't offering a
      way forward on Iraq -- and to do so in a way that is
      neither defeatist nor blindly loyal to the president.

      ''We're not going to cut and run -- that's just
      Republican propaganda," Dean said in a speech Feb. 10
      in Boston. ''But we are going to redeploy our troops
      so they don't have targets on their backs, and they're
      not breaking down doors and putting themselves in the
      line of fire all the time. . . . It's a sensible plan.
      It's a thoughtful plan. I think Democrats can coalesce
      around it."

      Reed, an Army veteran and former paratrooper who has
      been charged with developing a party strategy on the
      war, said the plan is attractive to many Democrats
      because it rejects what he calls the ''false
      dichotomy" suggested by President Bush: that the only
      options in Iraq are ''stay the course" or ''cut and

      ''It's important to note that it's not withdrawal --
      it's redeployment," Reed said. ''We need to pursue a
      strategy that is going to accomplish the reasonable
      objectives, and allow us to have strategic
      flexibility. Not only is it a message, but it's a
      method to improve the security there and around the

      The idea of a phased deployment of troops out of Iraq
      recognizes that a huge US military presence in the
      country is straining the armed services as well as
      feeding the insurgency, Reed said. He added that many
      military commanders agree that the nation should be
      moving toward taking American troops out of Iraq, to
      better equip the military to respond to threats around
      the world and give the Iraqi government a greater
      incentive to handle its own security.

      Under Korb's outline, all reservists and National
      Guard members would come home this year. Most of the
      other troops would be redeployed to other key areas --
      Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa --
      with large, quick-strike forces placed in Kuwait,
      where they could respond to crises in neighboring

      Korb said in an interview that setting dates for troop
      withdrawal would send a message to the Iraqi people
      that the United States does not intend to set up
      permanent military bases in Iraq. Starting the
      redeployment quickly will ensure that the Army does
      not wear out before the insurgents do, he said.

      ''The Iraqis want us to go," said Korb, who has
      opposed Bush's decision to invade Iraq from the start.
      ''If you're out by the end of 2007, we'll have been
      there almost five years. That's not cutting and

      But some strategists say the goal of a near-total
      withdrawal within two years is overly optimistic. US
      troops that are a plane ride away won't be an
      effective deterrent, and Iraqi security forces appear
      unlikely to be able to handle the violence on their
      own in the near future, said Michael O'Hanlon, a
      centrist defense specialist who is a lecturer at
      Princeton University.

      ''You're demanding that the political system produces
      a miracle," O'Hanlon said. ''Any plan that envisions
      complete American withdrawal in such a period of time
      is still a prescription for strategic defeat."

      The war has been a source of long-running tension
      among Democrats. Twenty-nine Democratic senators and
      81 House Democrats voted to authorize the president to
      invade Iraq, and while most are now critical of Bush's
      handling of the war, some -- notably Senator Joseph I.
      Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut -- remain staunch

      Although ''strategic redeployment" could draw a large
      portion of Democrats into the same fold, Reed and
      other Democrats disagree with setting a timeline for
      troop withdrawal, saying that such decisions should be
      dictated by commanders on the ground.

      Still, Reed noted that the Bush administration has
      begun modest troop withdrawals. The Senate in November
      overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for 2006
      to be ''a period of significant transition to full
      Iraqi sovereignty," and on Friday, the White House
      issued a statement reiterating its position: ''In
      2006, it is anticipated that the Iraqi military will
      take more of the lead for security throughout Iraq."

      But the president has strongly rejected issuing any
      time frames, arguing that they would be exploited by
      insurgents who would strike as soon as troops leave
      Iraq. Democrats who have suggested time frames for
      withdrawal have faced harsh attacks from Republicans,
      who paint them as offering a strategy of defeat.

      In November, Representative John P. Murtha, a
      Pennsylvania Democrat, shook much of Washington with
      his call for an immediate withdrawal of troops, and
      his estimate that all troops could be out of Iraq
      within six months. The generally hawkish Vietnam
      veteran also called for quick strike forces to remain
      close to Iraq -- similar to the Korb plan -- but that
      was largely overlooked in the barrage from

      White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Murtha
      plan amounted to ''surrender to the terrorists."

      Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio,
      delivered a blistering speech on the House floor aimed
      at Murtha, who spent 37 years in the Marine Corps:
      ''Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt
      said, in remarks she later withdrew from the
      Congressional Record.

      The attacks on Murtha demonstrated the political peril
      that could face Democrats who offer plans involving
      troop withdrawals.

      Although Murtha has 99 House cosponsors for his plan,
      some Democrats remain skittish about offering a plan
      that they know would be attacked harshly -- and, they
      say, almost certainly misconstrued -- by political

      Still, Dean, Reed, and others in the party are trying
      to develop a united Democratic vision for Iraq, based
      in part on the calculation that the war will be a big
      factor in many 2006 congressional campaigns.

      Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat who
      voted in favor of the war and now supports the Murtha
      plan, said that while the war remains Bush's
      responsibility, Democrats should be able to tell
      voters what they would do differently.

      ''There are a lot of different views, but I personally
      believe that putting forward specifics about how to
      move forward in Iraq is important to do," said Meehan,
      a member of the House Armed Services Committee. ''I
      would like to see Democrats coalesce around a strategy
      like Korb's strategy."

      This fall, in elections that Democrats hope will bring
      them back to power in Congress, more than 50 military
      veterans are running in congressional races as

      Those candidates are asked about Iraq all the time,
      and the idea of strategic redeployment is appealing to
      many of them, said Eric Massa, who is challenging an
      incumbent Republican in upstate New York and is
      helping to organize strategy for the veterans who are

      ''You can't stand in front of people and say, 'We want
      your vote,' and not tell people what it is they're
      voting for," said Massa, a former Navy officer. ''We
      all know that staying the course is not a strategy
      that's going to work."

      Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@....
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