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Congressman Chris Shays Shifts to Favor an Iraq Timetable
How Mr. Shays came to this change of heart is, he says, a matter of a newfound substantive belief that Iraqis need to be prodded into taking greater control of their own destiny under the country’s newly formed government. While Mr. Shays made his new position known recently in comments to reporters after returning from his 14th trip to Iraq, he said he planned to follow that up with a series of hearings in September, suggesting that he wants the issue to be at the center of his agenda during the election season. Mr. Shays, the chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, said he planned to draft a timetable for a phased withdrawal and then push for its adoption. In the interview, Mr. Shays sought to distance himself from both President Bush and antiwar Democrats, a position not unlike that of Mr. Lieberman, whom he considers a political ally. Mr. Shays and Mr. Lieberman appeared together at an event this past weekend. Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji in the 1960's.
Congressman Chris Shays Shifts to Favor an Iraq Timetable
G.O.P. Congressman Shifts to Favor an Iraq Timetable
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
Published: August 31, 2006
Caption: Congressman Chris Shays visiting a children's center on the West Bank in 2003. Chris Shays has made 14 trips to Iraq and was the first Congressman to enter the country after the war - against the wishes of the Department of Defense.
WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 — Only a few weeks ago, Representative Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, minced no words in responding to calls led by Democrats for a phased withdrawal from Iraq. “To have a timetable is absolutely foolish,” he said.
But now, as he faces an increasingly tough re-election battle against an antiwar Democrat, Diane G. Farrell, Mr. Shays has undergone a conversion: He is proposing a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops, an idea derided by the Bush administration and many Republicans.
“A lot of thought has gone into this,” the congressman explained in a lengthy interview this week. “I had a lot of resistance in my own office in moving forward with this.”
How Mr. Shays came to this change of heart is, he says, a matter of a newfound substantive belief that Iraqis need to be prodded into taking greater control of their own destiny under the country’s newly formed government.
But it also comes amid growing signs of strong antiwar sentiment in his state. Earlier this month, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a centrist Democrat who supports the war in Iraq and opposes a timetable for withdrawal, was defeated in the Connecticut primary by an antiwar candidate, Ned Lamont. Mr. Lieberman is now running as an independent.
Political analysts say Republicans in other states may be feeling similar pressures. At least two other House Republicans who strongly support the war — Representative Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota and Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina — now embrace the idea of a timetable for withdrawal, according to strategists in both parties.
While Mr. Shays made his new position known recently in comments to reporters after returning from his 14th trip to Iraq, he said he planned to follow that up with a series of hearings in September, suggesting that he wants the issue to be at the center of his agenda during the election season.
Mr. Shays, the chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, said he planned to draft a timetable for a phased withdrawal and then push for its adoption.
In the interview, Mr. Shays sought to distance himself from both President Bush and antiwar Democrats, a position not unlike that of Mr. Lieberman, whom he considers a political ally. Mr. Shays and Mr. Lieberman appeared together at an event this past weekend.
“The administration wants an open-ended commitment and that sends a wrong message to the Iraqis,” he said after describing how Iraq’s leaders had failed to take steps that would lead their country toward full-fledged political independence.
“I want the Iraqis to know that they do not have an open checkbook,” Mr. Shays continued. “I also want the Iraqis to know that our troops will not be there in the numbers they are now.”
But he also dismissed Democratic timetables for a speedy withdrawal as “arbitrary” and asserted that it would be a disaster to reduce the American presence in Iraq before the Iraqi government had the capacity to protect its citizens. “It would be obscene for us to leave before the Iraqis are able to defend themselves,” he said. “We completely dismantled their security forces.”
Republican officials have sought to minimize the political significance of Mr. Shays’s position. “The president still has a lot of support for the war,” said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. “What you are seeing is certain members express their own opinion.”
Democrats, in turn, have sharply questioned Mr. Shays’s motives, arguing that his conversion had less to do with principle than with the realization that he could no longer afford to vigorously support a war and a president who, polls show, are not popular in Connecticut.
Ms. Farrell, Mr. Shays’s Democratic challenger, described the congressman’s shift as a desperate attempt to divert attention from his record of support for the war.
“Chris Shays knows he is in the fight of his life,” she said. “And it appears that he will say anything in the hope that voters will forget his past record.”
Charlie Cook, a nonpartisan political analyst, argued that more Republicans are likely to begin giving serious thought to embracing a timetable for troop withdrawal given that opposition to the war remains deep as Election Day draws closer.
He noted that in Mr. Shays’s case, his shift came around the same time polls began to show the congressman in an increasingly tight race against Ms. Farrell, who has drawn comparison between Iraq and Vietnam. Ms. Farrell came within five percentage points of defeating Mr. Shays in 2004.
“If you’re a Republican in a tough re-election, you have to stop and reexamine your position,” Mr. Cook said.
Mr. Shays cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Lamont’s victory. He said that Mr. Lieberman did not lose simply because of his war position. He argued, among other things, that Mr. Lieberman had run a “terrible campaign” and that he had alienated many Connecticut Democrats by becoming too close to Republican leaders in Washington.
Mr. Shays said that his plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq would not necessarily reduce the American presence there quickly. “Americans may not like the timeline,” he said. “It may be too slow.” He said the withdrawal would be based on recommendations from military commanders, as well as on a monthly inventory of the number of Iraqi troops that are trained.
When this story was posted in September 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:
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Chris Shays Shifts to Favor an Iraq Timetable
In a policy shift, RPCV Congressman Chris Shays, long a staunch advocate of the Bush administration's position in Iraq, is now proposing a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. How Mr. Shays came to this change of heart is, he says, a matter of a newfound substantive belief that Iraqis need to be prodded into taking greater control of their own destiny under the country’s newly formed government. As Chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, he plans to draft a timetable for a phased withdrawal and then push for its adoption. A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War who said that if drafted he would not serve, Chris Shays has made 14 trips to Iraq and was the first Congressman to enter the country after the war - against the wishes of the Department of Defense.
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