Minnesota delegation cool to use of more troops in Iraq

No support for more troops
Democratic senators participated in a news conference at the Library of Congress on Friday to discuss Democratic leadership's plans to "move America forward" in the 110th Congress. During the press conference, Democrats said they would resist efforts by President Bush to increase troop levels in Iraq.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Of Minnesota's 10 representatives and senators, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of the 5th District seems to have the clearest idea of what to do about Iraq.

"We've got to get out of Iraq right away," Ellison said. "That was a campaign position that I took and I meant that. Of course we do it in a way that is safe for our troops. Of course we do it in a way that doesn't put our soldiers at risk. But I think we need to redeploy right away and I think we need to engage diplomatically right away."

But President Bush is reportedly considering sending thousands more troops to Iraq in the hope they'll help stabilize parts of the country.

Sixth District Rep. Michele Bachmann, also beginning her first term in Congress, has a much less clear idea of what should be done. Bachmann says she thinks visiting Iraq would help her figure it out.

"I don't believe we have all of the information in front of us. As a member of Congress that's why I want to go to Iraq as quickly as I can. I want to get the best information in front of me," she told Minnesota Public Radio.

Eighth District DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar has been in Congress for more than three decades. He draws a parallel the situation he faced in his first term, and the one the country faces now.

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"In my first term in Congress, 1975-1976, we were still engaged in Vietnam," he noted.

Oberstar recalls the approach he and many others in Congress took then when the White House was waging the Vietnam War without the support of a majority of Americans.

"There were 16 recorded votes in April of 1975 along with a great many others to end the funding, to cut off symbolically the funding for our continued presence in Vietnam and bring the troops home," Oberstar said. "If that is what it takes to make it clear to this administration... if we have to take steps to restrict the budget for our forces to only what is needed to bring troops home, then that's what I would support."

Republican Jim Ramstad from the 3rd District says he would not vote to cut funding for the war and he's confident that won't be necessary because he's expects the new Congress will begin applying more much pressure on the White House.

"We have a bully pulpit too, and we can exert pressure on the administration in various ways. For example, the letters we send, by speaking out publicly. Let me just say that I think the administration is starting to get the message and it's a bipartisan message that we need to apply benchmarks," he said.

Ramstad says the benchmarks will determine when the Iraqi government takes more responsibility for the nation's security.

Ramstad says he will wait to hear the president's case before making up his mind on whether more troops are necessary.

Democrat Collin Peterson from the 7th District agrees, you can't cut off funds for the troops. But Peterson says the problem he sees in working with the Bush administration is that there's a lack of trust in the Republican White House on top the lack of confidence in its ability to handle Iraq.

Peterson says he would only back adding more troops if the strategy were coupled with an Iraqi reconstruction and employment plan.

"If their troops were going to be providing some kind of security that's going to allow us to put these people back to work and make things function, then that might be one thing. But if you're just going to add troops into basically what looks like a civil war, then I'm not sure that's going to solve anything," Peterson said.

Peterson says more troops could make things worse in Iraq.

That's exactly what 4th District DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum thinks.

"You listen to the foreign policy experts and Iraq is in chaos," she said. "It's in civil war and the last time President thought he could do something to quell the violence, he put more troops into Baghdad and that has not proved to be successful. There's been more Iraqis killed. There have more solders killed."

In charge now of the House and the Senate, Democrats are expected to call numerous hearings so they can very publicly question the Bush administration on Iraq.

House newcomer Tim Walz from the 1st District says he doesn't think a solution lies in sending more troops. Walz says Congress may well have to invoke its constitutional power-of-the-purse to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops. And Walz says he's not concerned about the political fallout that could come with that.

"I'm willing to take a look at that and to say, 'you know if that's what's it's going to take, then, yes.' I'll have the courage to say that," Walz said. "Because there's no doubt, and I am not fearful that they're going to paint into the picture that I don't support the troops. Because I spent 24 years in uniform and everyone who know me knows that's not true. And I think they really want some true leadership."

Minnesota's two senators, Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, both say they would not support cutting off funding for the war. Both are also opposed to sending more troops.

And both indicate that a diplomatic solution is called for; one that would seek to reconcile differences between the warring sects.

Coleman says the U.S. needs to make it clear to the Iraqi government that it needs to move forward with a plan to quell civil war violence.

"What I would do is layout a very specific series of steps that we would want the Iraqis to take and tell them if they don't do that within a certain period of time, then we will reposition ourselves in this war on terror and we will do those things that have to be done to get American soldiers out of the line of fire," Coleman said.

Sounding much like Coleman, Klobuchar says the U.S. needs to wean the Iraqi government off its "culture of dependency."

"And you don't do that by adding new troops," according to Klobuchar. "I think we need to start redeploying some of our troops to surrounding areas. I don't favor an automatic withdrawal date of bringing them home immediately. I think we have to be very smart and careful about this, but I do not support adding more troops in Iraq."

The only member of the Minnesota delegation who declined to discuss with Minnesota Public Radio News what should be done about Iraq was Republican 2nd District Congressman John Kline. After repeated requests for an interview, a Kline staffer said Kline will, "sit this one out for no particular reason."