Rep. Skelton presides over critical Iraq hearing
U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., presided over what he characterized as the "most important hearing of the year" in his opening statement before the joint meeting Monday, Sept. 10, of the House Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The hearing provided the occasion for a long-awaited and much anticipated report from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the military and political effects of a surge of troops in Iraq initiated earlier this year by the Bush administration.
"Today is a critical moment," Skelton said. "This Congress and this nation are divided on the pace with which the United States should turn over responsibility to the Iraqis. But every member here desires that we complete our military involvement in Iraq in a way that best preserves the national security of the United States."
Skelton set the tone of the hearing -- from the Democratic perspective, at least -- by expressing respect for Petraeus and Crocker but considerable skepticism for the message they were expected to deliver.
"I hope, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, that you can persuade us that there is substantial reason to believe that Iraq will turn around in the very near future," he said. "But you have the burden of answering these fundamental questions to those of us who have been watching Iraq for years.
"And every promising development has so far not turned out to be the solution we hoped.
"The witnesses must tell us why we should continue sending our young men and women to fight and die if the Iraqis won't make the tough sacrifices leading to reconciliation?"
Skelton also demonstrated the tensions in Congress over the Iraq war when he made several comments that were picked up by an open microphone, including a testy exchange with Dan Burton, a Republican representative from Indiana.
Burton expressed concern that a number of protesters at the hearing would disrupt testimony.
Skelton assured Burton the protesters would be removed if necessary, and a number of them were.
Later, Skelton was heard expressing frustration with Burton's "lecturing" him on how to run the hearing.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement that she hopes to find a middle-ground solution between a rapid drawdown of troops and continued presence "in the middle of a civil war."
"I think the logical thing is to change the mission, to change our mission from securing Iraq and providing stability to that nation to what we really should be doing, which is fighting terrorism," McCaskill said. "We should be fighting terrorism in Iraq with our troops on the ground, but at a much lower level than we have now."
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said the testimony only reinforced his support for Petraeus' efforts based on what he's heard from troops on the ground.
"Because of our new strategy, the momentum has clearly shifted to our favor in Iraq," Bond said.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., cautioned against "rushing to legislative judgment" and urged lawmakers to "craft a policy worthy of our troops' continued sacrifice and consistent with their single-minded determination to succeed."
Associated Press reports were included in this story.
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