Sen. Domenici Supports Iraq Study Group Bill
Sen. Pete Domenici is the latest Republican to go public about disagreements with President Bush on Iraq. On Thursday, he told supporters in his home state of New Mexico that he no longer backs the current Iraq strategy.
Domenici joins a number of other senators from both parties who are calling on the administration to implement most of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. He has pledged support for Senate Bill 1545, which calls for the implementation of those recommendations. A version of the bill will be introduced as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.
Melissa Block spoke with Domenici on Friday while he was traveling in New Mexico.
Senator, you have seen the headlines today. A lot of the terminology goes like this: Sen. Domenici breaks ranks with the president on Iraq. Do you think you're breaking ranks?
I don't know how you would categorize it, but I won't argue with that. I argue with some other categorizations, but "breaking ranks" — probably I'm choosing to go in a different direction in terms of trying to get to the same end, the end being a point in time in the not-too-distant future when the Iraqis would be in control of more of their own destiny, but America would still be militarily present. ... I'm saying that we want Iraqis to take over quicker and sooner than the president has been willing to say. That is the biggest difference, without any question.
What has happened that made you come out now to take this stand?
Oh, just the more I sat down and studied it with my staff, reading what my friend [Indiana Senator] Dick Lugar had to say and my own exchange with people here in New Mexico.
I gather you have had some conversations with family members of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq.
Every death of a New Mexican is followed by me and a phone call, or calls to the relatives indicating my condolences, and it's just amazing — you find such a strong willingness on the part of the parents to acknowledge that their children really wanted to be in this war. Only of late do I find that parents [are] saying, "I'm speaking for myself: Now, I want you to also try to hurry up, try to get on the side of where we can get out of there a little sooner." I have heard that a little bit more from the relatives of the dead military that I talk to every day.
They are saying accelerate the timetable, in other words.
They are saying [that], yes. They say, "Our son wanted to be there; we know that. He died there; that is what he wanted. Now, I am speaking for myself: I would like you to hurry up, get them out of there quicker." That is all I'm saying, and I'm not trying to make a big case out of it — that has just happened a couple of times, and it was noticeable.
The president said on the Fourth of July that the message should be more patience, more courage and more sacrifice. What do you make of that?
He is a great, he is a wonderful man, but I think ... those three words, they could be applied another way. I think I have been doing just that. The question is how much, how long? He kind of would say, forever maybe, or until things – till we win. I think I have a responsibility to exercise my prerogatives and to try to expedite what I have been discussing with you, and that is that the American troops would be in a different mode of operation six or eight months from now if we push hard enough, and won't be doing all of the fighting, holding all of the serious parts. This war will be in their hands; it will have to be in the other – in the hands of the other troops.
Senator Domenici, thanks for talking with us today.
This story contains only a portion of the discussion and has been edited for clarity.
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