Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi’s choice for the House Select Committee on Intelligence has told NEWSWEEK magazine that he believes that the US needs more troops to stabilize Baghdad, a position which puts him at odds with the majority of his own party. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) has said that he thinks that 20,000-30,000 more troops are required to stabilize Baghdad:
But in an interview with NEWSWEEK on Tuesday, Reyes pointedly distanced himself from many of his Democratic colleagues who have called for fixed timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Coming on the eve of tomorrow’s recommendations from the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission, Reyes’s comments were immediately cited by some Iraq war analysts as fresh evidence that the intense debate over U.S. policy may be more fluid than many have expected.
“We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies,” Reyes said. “We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan” was before the 2001 invasion by the United States.
Reyes also stressed that there needed to be greater “political accountability” demanded of the Iraqi government. But on the core issue of the U.S. commitment, Reyes—a Vietnam War veteran who partially lost his hearing in that conflict—even compared his position to that of another Vietnam vet, Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. Like Reyes, McCain also has called for an increase in U.S. troop strength. When asked how many additional troops he envisioned sending to Iraq, Reyes replied: “I would say 20,000 to 30,000—for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”
Rep. Reyes is exactly right. We cannot risk Iraq falling into anarchy, and we need more troops to stabilize Baghdad and its environs before we can start working on diplomatic and political fronts. What Rep. Reyes is doing by taking this position is acting in the way a responsible leader should: putting the needs of the nation above partisan concerns. It’s a politically dangerous stand for him to take, but ultimately it’s the right things to do.
The story doesn’t end there, however. The article goes on to state that Pelosi knew of Reyes’ position on Iraq before tapping him for the job. That’s quite an interest revelation in itself: Pelosi, who needs the support of the strongly anti-war Democratic base to stay in power ended up supporting someone who has now gone off and joined the responsible wing of the party. Either this is a sign that Pelosi really does understand the gravity of the situation, or that other political calculations took precedence. To be honest, given the political risks involved in this decision, I’m wondering if Speaker Pelosi might not actually be smarter on Iraq than one would think from her prior positions. The Democrats will, naturally, keep attacking Bush on Iraq, but if their policy is to stabilize rather than withdraw, at least their actions are responsible even if their rhetoric is strictly partisan.
Congressional Republicans should work with their Democratic counterparts on this new emerging consensus that more troops are needed in Iraq. We can sustain those increases for only a few months, which is why that increase needs to be accompanied by efforts to get the Iraqis self-sufficient and ensure that al-Maliki’s government does its part. None of this will be easy, but if the Democrats are willing to act in good faith to stabilize Iraq, the Republicans have an obligation to work with them. The future of Iraq transcends petty partisanship, and since Reyes has taken such a risky yet wise stand, he deserves the support of both sides of the political aisle.