Ehrlich backs policies on Iraq

Governor links 9/11 with war

November 30, 2005|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

On the eve of President Bush's Annapolis speech on the war on terror, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. endorsed the administration's military policies and linked the Iraq war with the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

A day after declining to comment on the war on the grounds that it is a federal issue, Ehrlich dismissed calls by war critics for the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

"I think the majority of the members of Congress and the majority of the American public understand how wrong it would be to cut and run in Iraq. The polls show that," he said.

He added that the public needs to realize that the people who flew the planes into the twin towers in lower Manhattan "are the same people who are shooting at us in Iraq."

Amid growing calls for a pull-out of troops and questions about the administration's original case for going to war, Bush is expected to use his speech at the Naval Academy today to outline plans for turning over more security operations to Iraqi forces. But he said in a stop yesterday in El Paso, Texas, that "it would be a terrible mistake" to pull out of Iraq and that the politics of the war would play no role in the timetable for bringing troops home.

However, the president and members of his administration have long ago stopped suggesting that Iraq played a direct role in the 2001 attacks, a notion that was discredited by the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission.

In its final report, the commission detailed periodic contacts between Iraqi officials and al-Qaida over the years but no evidence that Saddam Hussein's government participated in the attacks.

"We have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship," the commission wrote. "Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with [al-Qaida] in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."

More recently, Bush has advanced a different argument, saying that the Iraq war is preventing terrorists from coming to the United States. U.S. soldiers "know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets," the president said in a weekly radio address in August.

As the insurgency within Iraq continues, war critics and foreign affairs experts have raised concerns that the country has become a magnet for terrorists, drawn to anti-American causes.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell declined to clarify the governor's remarks on who he was referring to when he said the "same people."

The comments, made after a news conference at the closing of a troubled juvenile justice facility in Baltimore County, align the governor more closely with the president's Iraq policies than most other elected officials in Maryland, even his fellow Republicans.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is scheduled to hold a fundraiser today with Bush after the president's Annapolis speech, has said he wants the administration to begin discussions about bringing the troops home. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, has said he wants to pull out as soon as possible, and Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest co-sponsored a resolution calling for a date-specific withdrawal.

Democrats and third-party candidates are generally even more critical of the administration.

A poll conducted by The Sun this month found that nearly 70 percent of Maryland voters want to start bringing troops home. Among those surveyed, 51 percent said the United States should begin gradually withdrawing, and 18 percent said the military should pull out immediately. A quarter of voters said the United States should maintain or increase its presence there.

andy.green@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Greg Garland and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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