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Assessing the war as 4th anniversary nears

Times Staff Writer

National security advisor Stephen J. Hadley said Sunday that congressional Democrats’ efforts to put time limits on the Iraq war could doom U.S. military efforts and leave the strife-torn country a hub of international terrorism.

Terrorists “want to get a safe haven in Iraq from which they can then destabilize neighboring regimes and come and plan actions against the United States,” Hadley said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

As the war is about to enter its fifth year, lawmakers, military experts and pundits are assessing its progress and cost.

More than 3,200 members of the U.S. military and an estimated 60,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20, 2003.

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By the end of 2007, the war’s price is expected to reach $500 billion.

Hadley said the result would justify the bloodshed and other sacrifice.

“The cost has been enormous for the Iraqis. The interesting thing is that the Iraqis are nonetheless willing to pay it,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Others strongly disagreed.

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“If you’re asking me about it, no, I don’t think it was worth it at all,” retired Army Col. Pat Lang, a former defense intelligence analyst and an Iraq specialist, told “Late Edition.”

“I think it was not, in fact, an essential part of the war against the jihadis across the world and has been a diversion from that and has put us in a real mess.”

This week, the House will vote on a $124-billion spending bill that would compel the withdrawal of most American forces from Iraq by summer 2008. Though President Bush has threatened to veto any legislation to remove troops, much of Sunday’s TV discussions focused on what effect such a measure could have.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said that placing specific deadlines and conditions on military operations in Iraq would make it “difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve their objectives.”

Richard N. Perle, a strong advocate of the war who was chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board before the invasion, was more blunt on NBC’s “Meet the Press": “What a date certain will do is guarantee the defeat to the United States effort in Iraq. Guarantee it.”

But Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Alamo), in an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” said the House bill was designed to echo a message sent by voters in the November election that American goals in Iraq should change.

“We’re looking to do everything we can to get the president to do what he must do, which is to recognize that we don’t have a military mission any longer in Iraq,” she said.

The primary objective should be to begin a phased withdrawal by year’s end, while still providing Iraq with a chance for political stability, Tauscher said.

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Democrats also challenged Hadley’s assertion that continuing the U.S. operation in Iraq was the way to win the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

“The central front of terror is not in Baghdad,” Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a retired three-star Navy admiral, said on “Meet the Press.” “Osama bin Laden has not moved there.”

Resources now devoted to Iraq would be better spent in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, Sestak said.

On “This Week,” Hadley labeled legislators’ blueprints for withdrawal a “charade.” Aside from the threatened veto, the House plan seems unlikely to win approval in the Senate, which rejected a resolution last week that would have required President Bush to start withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within 120 days after its enactment.

Still, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said such initiatives showed a gradual, inexorable shift in sentiment against the war.

“Important pieces of legislation take time,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

“We will change this policy over time.”

robin.fields@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Faye Fiore contributed to this report.


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