Md. Democrats see cause for optimism

Lawmakers hope report leads to a way out of Iraq

Politics

Iraq Report

December 07, 2006|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Members of Maryland's congressional delegation welcomed the report of the Iraq Study Group, with Democrats saying yesterday that its conclusions about bolstering diplomatic efforts and beginning to redeploy troops echo what they have been saying for months.

"It is clear, now, that there is no one in America, save perhaps the president, who believes that staying the course is a viable policy," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the House Democratic leader-elect.

But on a day when members expressed hope that the report could outline a way out of Iraq, several acknowledged that President Bush remains, as he once called himself, the decider.

"President Bush has heard these things before," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "He's heard them from Democrats. Now he's beginning to hear them from his own party.

"The question is whether or not he will be stubborn as he has been. ... At some point, when the people all around you are you telling you that there's something wrong with your policies, you ought to start listening and acting in a different way."

Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County said Bush appeared to be getting the message.

"When he fired [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld and hired [Robert M.] Gates, who was a part of the Iraq Study Group, I think he knew what he was doing," he said.

The report was required reading at the Capitol. Members who were attempting to wrap up business before the lame-duck Congress shuts down for good this week tried to digest the 96-page document between caucus meetings, floor votes and, in some cases, cleaning out offices.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have promised greater oversight of the war when they take control of Congress next month.

"This has been a Congress that has been AWOL when it comes to conducting serious oversight of the Bush administration's foreign policy," said Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County. "Just asking some of the tough questions will help focus attention on some of the issues and the challenges and point the way toward better approaches."

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski called the report "a very good place to begin bipartisan conversation."

"I do think we need to consider the diplomatic initiatives that have been recommended," she said. "Could something come of it? We don't know. But we'll never know if we don't try."

The Iraq Study Group recommended that the U.S. include Iran and Syria in discussions on stemming the violence in Iraq. Bush has resisted direct communication with those regimes.

Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn said the time had come to talk.

"It certainly doesn't hurt to see if they want to be helpful, if they want to play a constructive role," said the congressman from Prince George's County. "We cannot have our foreign policy be that we kind of cross our arms and say we're not going to talk to these folks and pout about it."

Among current members of the Maryland delegation, Republican Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Wayne T. Gilchrest and Democrats Hoyer and Wynn voted in October 2002 to give Bush authorization to use military force in Iraq. Mikulski, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Cummings, all Democrats, voted against.

Gilchrest, who saw combat as a Marine in Vietnam, says now that members of Congress "were sold a bill of goods." He called the report "the best thing that could have happened to this administration."

"You can call it a wake-up call," the Eastern Shore Republican said. "You can call it providing cover. You can call it pouring cold water in somebody's face. You can call it slapping somebody. I don't care what you call it. But the Iraqi people, the American soldiers, the Middle East deserve the best intellect that this country has to offer, and we're beginning to see it."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

REACTIONS

"We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution; in our opinion, that approach is no longer viable." James A. Baker III, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group

"The current approach is not working. And the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing. ... Many Americans are understandably dissatisfied. Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward." Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group

"If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible." House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California

"All of these assessments should be given the due respect and consideration they deserve. But we must not retreat from our obligations to help stabilize Iraq, nor should we give in to the notion that it is in our interests to strike deals with our enemies." House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio

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