Democrats Stuck on 'New Direction' in Iraq?

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - According to Democrats, the war in Iraq is a "complete failure"; even retired military officers say so; and staying the current (Republican) course in Iraq is an unacceptable strategy.

Democrats in both the House and the Senate are calling for a "new direction" in the war effort. But what does that mean? As a group, they aren't saying.

On Monday, Democrats tried to show the American people that they are serious about national security by holding a Democrats-only "oversight" hearing at which they criticized the Bush administration's "direction" in Iraq -- but offered no specific recommendations to change it.

Instead, Democrats complained: At Monday's hearing of the Democratic Policy Committee, three retired military officers were asked to give their assessment of the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, and their views were negative.

The retired military officers generally agreed that the Bush administration is on the wrong track in Iraq and that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the wrong man to lead the Defense Department. (Democratic leaders offered specifics of the officers' criticism in a news release issued on Monday.)

Democrats also accused the Republican Congress of neglecting its wartime oversight role: "Democrats have risen to fill that dangerous void, asking the tough questions needed to change course in Iraq," Sens. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) said in the news release.

"If the administration won't talk straight -- and the Congressional Majority won't hold them accountable -- Democrats will," Reid and Dorgan said on behalf of the Democratic Policy Committee.

Democrats said they plan to hold more such hearings. They said that Monday's meeting of the Democratic Policy Committee is the first in a "new national effort to look into the conduct and planning" of the war.

They said the series of hearings will continue throughout the year in cities across America; and they described the hearings as part of "a serious attempt to change the status quo strategy that has left Iraq in disarray and America less safe."

So, based on what the Democrats themselves have said, Democrats have complained about the war in Iraq; they plan to hold various "oversight" hearings on that war; they will give Americans "straight talk" about the war; and they will "seek to find the answers needed to take the Bush administration's Iraq policy in a new direction," as Sen. Dorgan put it in Monday's news release.

"Success in Iraq and success in the war against terrorism will only happen if we make good decisions," Dorgan added. But nothing was decided at Monday's hearing, except to proceed with more hearings.

Individual Democrats, including Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), have offered specific changes in the direction of the war. Both politicians are pushing for the immediate removal of most U.S. troops from Iraq.

Sen. Kerry has advocated getting U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, a suggestion the Senate rejected earlier this year.

And Rep. Murtha has suggested that U.S. troops can defend Iraq from outside the country: "We don't have to be right there [in Iraq]," Murtha said in June, in an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. "We can go to Okinawa... our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly."

On Monday, Democrats Reid and Dorgan noted that the war in Iraq has killed some 2,700 American troops, wounded more than 20,000, and cost more than $325 billion so far.

"Democrats believe such a terrible cost requires the highest level of oversight and accountability. [Monday's] sobering testimony leaves no doubt that the current strategy in Iraq is unsustainable, and Democrats are working to take America in a new direction," Reid and Dorgan's news release concluded.


The Democratic Policy Committee held hearings on the Iraq war simply for partisan gain, the Republican National Committee said.

The RNC -- calling the Democrats "Defeatocrats" -- said they are ignoring their own "weak record" on terror.

The way the Republicans see it, Democrats have advocated a "cut-and-run" strategy toward Iraq, with many Democrats voting for resolutions on withdrawing troops and for resolutions setting timetables for withdrawal.

The RNC also noted that the Democratic Policy Committee -- established in 1947 to conduct research and track votes -- has never held hearings or conducted investigations until Reid and Dorgan took over and expanded the DPC's mission.

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