Time is running out for the Iraqi Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders to come together for the security and prosperity of their nation, warned Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J., 9th Dist.) in a telephone press conference on Tuesday.
One reason for urgency, he noted, is the impending expiration of U.N. Security Council Resolution 17’3 authorizing military engagement in Iraq. Before it expires in December, the Iraqis would have to request a renewal of support from United States and coalition forces.
Rep. Steve Rothman is flanked by Staff Sgt. John Andrews of Rahway and PFC Celia Nunez of North Bergen, during his visit to Iraq.
Just back from a Defense Department-sponsored eight-day mission to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Kuwait, Rothman termed the end to the resolution a "window of opportunity that will be perhaps closing to utilize American forces to their best advantage to help support the strengthening of Iraqi armed forces and special forces."
Assisting the Iraqis, he believes, will lead to positive change, "and we will be playing the kind of role we should have been playing in the last four years, a very robust diplomatic role [in fostering a pluralistic society]."
With evidence, said Rothman, that the Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish factions are moving toward mutual accommodation, the United States should review the war’s mission and level of military commitment. That process should begin in June, six months ahead of the resolution’s expiration, he urged, providing a convenient timetable for a planned withdrawal. A pullback will come as no surprise to the Iraqis, he predicted. "They realize that the American people have lost patience and want [military] withdrawal. The various tribal sects get it, that there’s a sense of immediacy."
During the hour-long press briefing, Rothman reaffirmed his commitment to bring the war in Iraq to an end by favoring strategic diplomacy over continued military engagement and President Bush’s proposed troop escalation.
Rothman who with other members of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee met with ground troops, military commanders, and foreign government officials also scored the administration for turning a blind eye to what he called an "enormous need for mental health counseling for our returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, which shamefully is not being made available to them.
"It’s just plain wrong," he said of the "moral obligation that is not being met."
The lawmakers’ trip took place in advance of their consideration, beginning next week, of a $100 billion supplemental spending bill to fund military costs in Iraq and Afghanistan for the balance of ‘007. Among the items up for debate is the cost of deploying at least ‘1,500 additional troops to Iraq sought by the White House. Another potential cost is what Rothman said some estimates place as high as $1 trillion for mental health services for returning troops. "This is not being talked about by our administration," he charged.
House members will also consider attaching to the spending bill a series of conditions set forth by the House Appropriations Committee Chairman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) that would establish strict standards for troop preparedness and equipment safety, requirements that could be waived only by the president. "Our subcommittee is going to be working with [House Majority Leader Nancy] Pelosi to come to agreement about what to include" in the bill scheduled for a floor vote in about five weeks, he said.
Rothman stressed his opposition to any surge in troops, noting that the subcommittee’s focus should be on getting those still there home. "I would like the supplemental [bill] to have the effect of withdrawing all of our troops out of Iraq without delay," he said, while declining comment on Murtha’s conditions or how those might affect the direction of the war. In a later e-mail message to The Jewish Standard, Rothman wrote, "While I will not abandon troops serving in Iraq, I will continue to oppose any efforts to give the president a blank check to prolong this war. We are still developing the supplemental spending bill, and I will base my vote on the outcome of that work."
Full of praise for the military commanders and enlisted men and women, Rothman said during the press conference that he had detected "some frustrations about the repeated redeployments." Referring to soldiers who have been called back for three and four tours of active duty, Rothman speculated, "If you took a poll, they’d probably say that two redeployments are enough. There’s a great weariness, if not resentment, that they’re being asked to make these sacrifices when most Americans are not being asked to make this kind of contribution."
Among the dozens of combat troops with whom he said he spoke was Pfc. Celia Nunez of North Bergen, who Rothman said exemplified the professionalism and bravery of the Americans serving overseas.
Rothman, who voted to authorize the Iraqi invasion in ’00’, said a year ago, based on new intelligence that determined there was no imminent threat to U.S. security, that his vote had been a mistake. He has since voted against additional funding for the war and has become a vocal critic of President Bush’s Iraqi policy. He also differs with those who oppose engaging Iran and Syria in negotiations to stabilize the region, citing the truism, "One doesn’t negotiate peace with one’s friends, only with one’s enemies."