House's Skelton Doubts Benefit of Troop Surge
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
On to Capitol Hill now, where the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee doesn't believe that a surge in U.S. troops in Iraq is a very good idea.
Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton says the time for an increase in American forces in Iraq has long since passed.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Ike Skelton is a 30-year veteran of Congress. His father was a good friend of President Harry Truman. And like Truman, Congressman Skelton is famously plain spoken. And he made clear today he doesn't think much of the notion of a surge in U.S. forces.
Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri): If that be the case, I don't think it will change a thing. It could actually exacerbate the situation even further and I'm very concerned about this whole burden on the Army and Marine Corps.
NAYLOR: Skelton has long served on the Armed Services Committee in the House. As the senior Democrat, he's traditionally been a supporter of a strong military. He says he worries that the war in Iraq has strained the Marines and Army to their breaking points. At a news conference today, Skelton referred to the just-released quarterly report on the war from the Pentagon, which noted that a recent effort to quell the fighting in Baghdad with an influx of U.S. forces failed. He was skeptical that a larger surge would do any better.
Representative SKELTON: What's the mission? What is the military mission if you send another 20,000 troops into Baghdad? I don't know. Would it exacerbate the problem of being more targets? Is there something that will happen that we don't know? The time for a troop increase - larger troop increase - was about three and a half years ago.
NAYLOR: Skelton said Baghdad may well be the tipping point in the war in Iraq, and that he was not, as he put it, real optimistic. He says he met with the president and vice president last week, and offered this bit of advice.
Representative SKELTON: We should at least begin to do some redeployment right away to show the American people that we are not there to stay forever, but to show the Iraqi government and the people that we're not there to stay forever, and that the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis at the end of the day.
NAYLOR: Skelton said the president listened to but did not respond to his advice. Senate Democrats offered similar recommendations today. In a statement, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed said the quarterly review showed conditions have gone from bad to worse in Iraq, and there is no military solution ahead.
Reed said the president, in his words, must understand there can only be a political solution, and he must end the U.S. open-ended commitment to Iraq. Reed noted that as commander in chief, only the president can make the decisions necessary.
Skelton said Congress had three ways to influence administration policy by withholding funding for the war effort, which he dismissed out of hand by passing limiting language of some sort or by oversight of administration activities. Skelton made clear he prefers that option.
Representative SKELTON: Asking the tough questions - why did this happen? Why didn't you make a decision to do this or that? That does influence behavior.
NAYLOR: Skelton says he hopes to begin his committee's oversight sooner rather than later, and has already invited the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, to testify next month.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
BLOCK: In related news President Bush says he's told Defense Secretary Robert Gates to come up with a plan to increase the overall size of the U.S. military. Mr. Bush told the Washington Post that more troops are needed to deal with the long-term fight against terrorism. Any increase in the size of the U.S. military would likely take years to complete.
The president said he has not decided on about any short-term increase of troops in Iraq.
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