GOP Eyes the Democrats' New Plan on Iraq
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Congressman Adam Putnam of Florida is chairman of the House Republican Conference. Thanks for being with us.
Representative ADAM PUTNAM (Republican, Florida): Delighted to be here. Thank you.
BLOCK: And how do you read the Democratic plan that would set a timetable for troop withdrawal, set conditions for the Iraqi government to meet?
Rep. PUTNAM: Well, you know, we've been talking about benchmarks for some time, but it's unfortunate with these arbitrary deadlines. It does, I think, create an unnecessary and undue burden on those commanders and deprives them of the flexibility they need to wage this war as successfully as they can.
Ultimately, this papered-over compromise that has still not been vetted by the Democratic caucus is the result of four or five weeks of failed strategies that have not generated a sufficient support from within the Democratic Party. And so they keep coming back with a different iteration of the same plan, which ultimately is to cut off funding for our troops who are in harm's way.
BLOCK: Aren't benchmarks, though, a reasonable thing? To say, look, if we're going to fund this war, then we need to see the Iraqi government pulling its weight, making progress in a certain key areas.
Rep. PUTNAM: Americans at their core are scorekeepers. They want some objective criteria to know what's working and what's not. The problem with the Democratic plan is that it puts in motion the cutting off of funds for those troops who are in harm's way and it starts to tie the hands of those commanders on the ground. So you now have Washington making key battlefield decisions instead of the military.
BLOCK: Democrats would say, look, we're not cutting our funding for the troops who are there. We are setting a benchmark of funding that would mean those troops will start coming home because we're not seeing the Iraqi government step up to the plate and make the changes that need to be made.
Rep. PUTNAM: Well, I don't think anybody necessarily has a problem with being able to measure the progress of the Iraqis to meet their end of the bargain. But what you don't want to see is Congress giving the enemy the message that if you just stay in your cave until a date certain, the Americans will be gone and you can come out and do whatever you want to do to destroy this country and the progress that has been made there in the last several years.
BLOCK: Congressman Putnam, is any other limit on troop withdrawal acceptable to you, or would you say no matter how long this goes, no matter how costly it is, we will fund this war without conditions?
Rep. PUTNAM: Ultimately, the military commanders need to be empowered with the tools they need to win. And I can't think of any president in the history of warfare where you set a date after which you will no longer fight whether you win or lose.
BLOCK: But there's certainly plenty of examples of Congress cutting off funding for wars.
Rep. PUTNAM: The Democrats refuse to have that vote. If they want to have that vote, we could have it this afternoon about whether to cut off funding for troops in the field, to cut off funding for this war. And ultimately you've hit upon the core of this plan that has been rolled out today, which is an attempt to bridge the gap between the two thirds of the Democrats who would like to cut off funding and the third who ran in the fall elections essentially against that stance, and the inability of the Democratic leadership to bridge that gap.
Ultimately, we would like to see the Democrats follow through on their rhetoric about cutting off funding and have that vote so that we then can move on. But as it is right now, they're going through strings and caveats and too cute by half machinations so that they don't have to take the political heat for cutting off funding but they accomplish the same thing.
BLOCK: Congressman Putnam, thanks for being with us.
Rep. PUTNAM: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Congressman Adam Putnam of Florida. He is chairman of the House Republican Conference.
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