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Northwest Congressional Leaders Weigh In On War Hearings

Northwest congressional leaders responded to two days of briefings on the Iraq War Tuesday. It appears few, if any, minds have changed. Instead, opponents of the troop surge questioned the evidence of success, especially on the political front in the Iraqi parliament. The few supporters in the Northwest applauded the latest efforts from General David Petraeus. One congressman said Tuesday the American people should consider how much they are personally willing to  sacrifice for success in Iraq, as Rob Manning reports.

Vancouver-area Congressman Brian Baird has a few things in common with some of his counterparts south of the Columbia River: they opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, they agree that the situation in Iraq is likely to get worse if, or when, the U-S withdraws troops.

But Baird has drawn criticism lately for saying that the U-S should not leave quickly.

Brian Baird: “I spoke to a number of Iraqis who said to me, quite seriously: 'If you withdraw, I and my families will be dead, unless we can escape'.”

Baird shares the view of General David Petraeus that military efforts are working, and that a hasty withdrawal would lead to more civilian deaths.

But Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Portland says independent assessments show that violence is going up, despite the bigger troop presence. He says Iraq is heading for disaster, regardless of what the U-S does.

Earl Blumenauer: “When the United States leaves, that situation is going to be dire. But there is no evidence that it will be any more dire, if we leave in five days, five weeks, five months, or five years. The longer we continue to go through this elaborate charade, the longer our troops will be in harm's way at an unacceptable level, and the longer it will be before we have a sustainable result.”

Brian Baird: “It's going to take time to repair it.”

Congressman Baird says that the U-S destroyed much of the Iraqi infrastructure, and has a moral obligation to fix it. He says that effort will take time — and so will making political progress.  

Brian Baird: “A couple years from now,  their army would have much more time to train, prepare, to assess their officer corps, to root out infiltration. It takes a while to solve these political difficulties.”

Perhaps Baird's ideological opposite in this debate is Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith.

Baird voted against the 2003 invasion. Smith voted in favor. Now, the shoe is on the other foot: Baird supports the troop presence, and Smith wants a drawdown.

Smith says the surge may be working in places, but it simply can't stabilize the whole country.

Gordon Smith: “Our fight is against Al Qaeda, wherever they are, and wherever we are, they want to fight, and we need to be prepared to have our guns trained on them. Ultimately, where the surge, the strategy of clearing and holding, that does work, but if you wanted to clear and hold all the Iraqi territory, you wouldn't need 160-thousand troops, you'd need a half million.”

General Petraeus says the 160,000 troops will be reduced by 30,000 in the coming months, and may be reduced even further depending on conditions in Iraq.

Army and marine officials, and Petraeus himself, have said that maintaining such levels is unsustainable in the long-term. And opponents of the surge say it compromises U-S security in other parts of the world.

Congressman Brian Baird says he's worried about that, too. His solution:

Brian Baird: “If you love your country, you need to consider enlisting, and we need to consider public sacrifice in the sense of economic contributions to rebuild our military. People may not like that, but it's not enough to say 'oh, this war has damaged our military preparedness, I'm going to scream about how critical that is, but I'm not going to make a personal commitment to try to correct that'.”

Simply put, Baird says Americans should be willing to pay more to Uncle Sam.

Brian Baird: “I'd absolutely support a tax increase to cover the cost of this war, I think it's the responsible thing to do.”

Ultimately all sides say the biggest hurdle in Iraq is one that they're all too  familiar with in this country — political gridlock.

Although Oregon and Washington lawmakers have been reluctant to appear critical of U-S soldiers, they haven't hesistated to heap blame on the reluctance of leaders in Baghdad. But they don't agree if it's more time, or more pressure, that would be most useful to the Iraqi government. 

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