Congressmen on Constituents' Views on Iraq

Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-IN) and Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA) discuss what their constituents are saying about the situation in Iraq during the congressional recess.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Members of Congress are on recess now. They're speaking to and hearing from the voters back home, and we wondered what they are hearing and saying about Iraq. We've called up two junior congressmen--junior means they might face real opposition next year for re-election--and they're congressmen who have both made recent trips to Iraq. First, Republican Mike Sodrel, who was elected to Congress in 2004 from Indiana's 9th District; that's in the southeast part of the state. It includes Bloomington in the north and New Albany in the south.

Welcome to the program, Congressman Sodrel.

Representative MIKE SODREL (Republican, Indiana): Well, it's good to be here. Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: What are you hearing from your constituents about the war in Iraq?

Rep. SODREL: Well, I get a lot of questions. There's, you know, `How's our progress coming in Iraq?' And it ranges on the other side to people who would like for us to get out tomorrow or not be there at all.

SIEGEL: What do you tell them?

Rep. SODREL: Well, you know, I--the reason I wanted to go to Iraq is the information that I get is, like most of my constituents, one-dimensional. It's flat screen, flat paper. You know, I wanted to see it 3-D. I wanted to be able to sit around the chow hall with the Pfcs and Spec 4s and buck sergeants--and met with General Casey so--met with Iraqi officials, you know, to form my own opinions.

SIEGEL: How did it change your opinions to get that three-dimensional view of the situation?

Rep. SODREL: Well, you know, I'm actually more encouraged. I don't how many of your listeners know that there is commercial air service, as we speak, operating in and out of Baghdad international airport. I talked to one diplomat that has used it just to see how it was working. He said it's not unlike landing anyplace in the United States: They check your passport; you go through customs; they've got screeners and metal detectors and--very similar, and it's scheduled air service.

SIEGEL: Now when you tell the folks in Indiana this, do you feel that you're seeing either minds being changed or people being fortified in their view, or do you still run up against skepticism and people wanting to know, `All right, when do we get out?'

Rep. SODREL: Well, for some people it's a relief to at least know that there is a strategy; that things are happening; that there is progress being made because too often they hear, `There is no progress. We're bogged down. You know, things are not getting better.'

SIEGEL: When the president speaks about the war in Iraq--when he spoke at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, in the summer and he talked about why we're fighting in Iraq, he begins with, `It's all a response to the attacks of September 11th, 2001.' And...

Rep. SODREL: Well, you know, that much is true. I mean, if we hadn't been attacked on 9/11, we wouldn't be in Afghanistan or Iraq, frankly. We would have no real reason to be waging the war on terror. They brought the war to us. Each of these were in response. Now you could argue whether they are proper responses or not proper responses, but they are, in fact, responses. We didn't attack anybody. We were attacked, and we have responded to those attacks.

SIEGEL: And Iraq is a completion of that mission, the way you see it, and you think that that's true of the way your voters see it as well?

Rep. SODREL: I think they do, but I think they're more concerned about the present than the past.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Rep. SODREL: What they want to know is, `What are we going to do going forward?' I don't get so many questions about, `How did we get here?' It's, `How are we going to move forward from this point?'

SIEGEL: Congressman Mike Sodrel, Republican of Indiana, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Rep. SODREL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Now Democratic Congressman Jim Marshall, who is in his second term in Congress representing the 3rd District of Georgia; that includes Macon, Milledgeville, Vidalia, a lot of central Georgia.

Welcome to the program, Congressman Marshall.

Representative JIM MARSHALL (Democrat, Georgia): Happy to be with you.

SIEGEL: What are you hearing from your constituents about the war in Iraq?

Rep. MARSHALL: Of course, it's mixed. Vast majority here in middle Georgia believe that we are where we are. The thing to do is focus on that; don't get distracted by constantly revisiting how we got here, but think about how we move from here to the best possible state, the best possible end. And that's basically what I hear fairly consistently, although there are dissenting voices, no question about it.

SIEGEL: What do you tell them? What do you tell your constituents about what you've learned about what's going on in Iraq?

Rep. MARSHALL: This is the sixth time I've been there. Just got back, in fact, yesterday. And it's slow, steady, mundane progress that you see. I spent a while with a major general Iraqi in charge of a special police brigade. They're actually doing independent operations. They're very effective. And gradually they will be--and they already are--they will be able to take over the responsibility for securing acreage. Large areas of their country are already being secured by them. We'll be able to draw down soldiers. I'm one that for some time has thought that we've got more soldiers there than we need to have. I'm not one of those voices that's saying more soldiers. And I expect that we will draw down soldiers and we'll gradually transition to Iraqi support. We'll be in the background for a long time, giving them support that they really don't need to have redundant capability for.

SIEGEL: Is there anything in particular that you think President Bush might say in his speech tomorrow, say, at Annapolis at the Naval Academy about fighting terrorism and fighting in Iraq that would bolster support for the US effort in Iraq or at least dispel some of the doubts that folks might have about it?

Rep. MARSHALL: I would expect that the president will make specific references to Iraqis taking responsibility for security. He'll make references to the sort of successes that Iraqis have had in different missions that they crafted, they executed with little or no support from us. By now most Americans, if not all Americans, understand the key to success lies with Iraqis with our support, and the president will talk about the capability of Iraqis to do this.

SIEGEL: Can you imagine a point where a judgment is made about the Iraqis by US military commanders or the political leadership in the US--a judgment is made about how well or not well the Iraqis are doing that says, `They're not pulling it off. We'd better get out of here pretty soon'?

Rep. MARSHALL: That can happen. We--you know, I've had conversations like that with military leadership, and it's trying to evaluate: Can you say now what conditions would cause us to reach those conclusions? The answer is no. We are making progress in the right direction; that's quite clear. We will have some setbacks; that's to be expected. And we may get to a point that you just described, but as things are progressing at the moment, nobody expects that's going to happen. Can't say it won't.

SIEGEL: Well, Congressman Marshall, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

Rep. MARSHALL: Sure.

SIEGEL: That's Jim Marshall, Democratic congressman from the 3rd District of Georgia. We heard earlier from Mike Sodrel, who is the Republican representative from the 9th District of Indiana. Both congressmen have made recent visits to Iraq.

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