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New plan for Iraq poses GOP dilemma

Published January 13, 2007


WASHINGTON - Florida Republicans in Congress are finding themselves in a difficult predicament on the president's plans to send more U.S. troops to Iraq:

They believe the United States must alter its strategy, but they're hearing strong opposition from folks back home. And some members worry the president's request for 21,500 more troops isn't enough.

"If we need more troops, let's send enough and be done with it," said Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow, usually a reliable supporter of the president.

Other Republicans, including Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota, said sending more troops to Iraq is a dangerous idea, given the Iraqi government's inability to provide more political and military stability.

"It's too little, too late, and should have been done a year ago," Brown-Waite said.

"How committed are the Iraqis to their own country? I just get a feeling our country is being used."

Buchanan, a freshman who campaigned as a supporter of President Bush, said that he was uncomfortable with sending more troops and that the issue was too important for partisan politics. "A lot of people are concerned. ... It's not about Democrats and Republicans; it's about doing what's right."

Brown-Waite also scoffed at the president's assertion that Iraqis would be largely in control of their country's security by November, calling it a pipe dream.

In a televised address Wednesday, Bush acknowledged that his strategy was not working and said he planned to send 21,500 more troops and make the Iraqi government take more responsibility for the nation's security.

Democrats have attacked the plan. "I heard no justification for escalating the war," said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, a freshman member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Now, after digesting the president's plans for two days, many Republicans are questioning his wisdom as well, but they don't know what else to do. Putnam said House Republicans were skeptical about the troop increase at a meeting Friday morning. Members are aware that "public support is dwindling," he said.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said he was struggling with whether to support the president's plans. He planned to study materials from the White House over the weekend and hoped to consult with military experts next week.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, says he isn't ready to endorse the president's plan but wants to make sure the United States can win decisively.

"You whip the enemy, and then you leave the battlefield," he said.

He said the military may need even more troops to stabilize enough of the country for democracy to take hold. But how to sell that to the American people?

Young winced. "I don't know that you can."

Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached or 202 463-0575.

[Last modified January 13, 2007, 00:51:24]

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