Debate on Iraq Timetable Moves to Senate

As news that two U.S. soldiers attacked at a checkpoint in Iraq Friday have been found dead, the debate over the war continues on Capitol Hill. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) tells Alex Chadwick about the bill he's co-sponsoring to begin troop withdrawals this year.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Meanwhile the Iraq war is debated again, today, on Capital Hill. Democratic Senators Jack Reed and Carl Levin are sponsoring an Amendment to start U.S. troop withdrawal this year. When I spoke earlier, with Senator Reed, I asked him what kind of time schedule he sees for this phased withdrawal.

SENATOR JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): Well I think the most important step is the first step. That is declaring that it's the policy of the United States to begin a re-deployment. The actual number of troops, the timing, has to be determined by commanders on the ground based upon the conditions on the ground. But it's important to articulate this policy, and important to do it sooner, rather than later.

CHADWICK: Well when do you think U.S. troops should be out? If you say sooner rather than later, what's a good day?

Sen. REED: Well you have to rely on the judgment of military commanders but let me tell you I think we can begin to see the reduction of our combat units. We also, I think, have to recognize that we'll have logistical troops, trainers, and even special operations troops, in the country, for many many months ahead. But it's important to begin re-deployment this year.

CHADWICK: Politically, Senator, the Republican's in the last two weeks have turned around on this issue, or they think it's turning around for them. There was a debate in the house last week. Republicans reportedly think Democratic uncertainty is going to help them in November, despite the unpopularity of the war. You must be reading and seeing all the commentary on this, these days.

Sen. REED: Well, I believe that the best policy is not one that's based on the politics of the situation, but based upon what's happening in Iraq and what should happen in Iraq. And, over the last three years, I've always tried to focus on what I think is in the best interest of the United States and, and the region that we're involved with. As we go into the fall, I think the American people recognize - those I hope that focus more on trying to get the job done rather than simply those that are politically spinning the issue.

CHADWICK: How many Democratic votes do you think you could get in the Senate, for this Amendment?

Sen. REED: We've worked very hard over the last several weeks, to come up with a resolution that is I think sound in terms of policy and makes sense in terms of the direction that we should take with respect to Iraq. I'm confident that we'll get a good response but I'd hesitate to put a number on it.

CHADWICK: Senator Carey says he's going to go ahead with his resolution, which would set a date, a specific date, for withdrawing American troops.

Sen. REED: Well that's the right of every Senator. And my sense is that a specific deadline is not the most helpful policy at the moment. I believe the proposal that Senator Levin and I are introducing, which essentially tells them this is no longer an open ended commitment, that we're going to begin to re-deploy without any type of deadline or timetable, is in the best interest of all concerned. It certainly I think sends a message to them, that they have to start taking actions themselves to improve their securities, establish an inclusive government. It also, I think, will hopefully send a message to our military forces, that they're not going to be there year in and year out. It's taking a tremendous toll on our military forces in terms of wear and tear. This is a very serious and important (Unintelligible) issue that concerns all Americans. It certainly concerns a hundred thousand plus troops deployed and also their families here at home.

CHADWICK: Well it does that but none of this takes place outside of the political conversation that goes on in this country in an election year when Americans clearly are more troubled by Iraq than any other issue that's before us.

Sen. REED: Well I think they are troubled by Iraq, and I think also they're looking for alternatives. But I think they understand we have to have substance, we want to not leave the situation worse off than it is at the moment.

CHADWICK: You are a military veteran. You went to West Point; you were a Captain in the Army Rangers?

Sen. REED: I was a Captain in the 82nd Airborne Division. Ranger qualified. And a paratrooper and a jumpmaster, so I have some experience, yes.

CHADWICK: The President's Senior Political Advisor, Carl Rove, says the Democrats are beginning to cut and run. And Representative Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat, has said that the people who are making this policy and speaking for this policy, they weren't in the military. And he suggests that people like Carl Rove - he says, I don't know what he was doing during the war, but I was a veteran. These people are sitting in air-conditioned offices, making policy for soldiers who are in the field. Is that a fair way to hold this conversation?

Sen. REED: Congressman Murtha is a combat marine, and I think he has more standing than anybody else to talk about, not only the policy in Iraq, but also point out that many who are the staunchest advocates for staying the course, and staying there forever, could not find their way to the recruiting station when they were young men or young women. I don't know if it's fair or not, but it's accurate.

CHADWICK: Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Senator thank you for speaking with us on DAY TO DAY.

Sen. REED: Thank you.

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