|Maryland's Gilchrest Seeks
Debate on Iraq|
By Tom Howell Jr.
Capital News Service
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
WASHINGTON - Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and three colleagues want to
turn around a congressional failure to take an active role in wartime
policy, calling for a long overdue deliberative discussion on America's
future in Iraq.
In a news conference Wednesday, the group sought support for House
Resolution 543 to provide "full and immediate debate" on U.S. policy in Iraq
for up to 17 hours on the House floor. The resolution does not provide a
timetable for troop withdrawal, the four stressed, but rather deliberative
discussion they said Congress lacks.
Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, a former Marine who earned a Purple Heart in
Vietnam, said he saw soldiers band together when the sight and smell of
death surrounded them. It is that same "integration of integrity" that
Congress needs to examine U.S. actions in the Middle East, he said.
"This is not a judgment against the war effort," Gilchrest said. "It's an
evaluation of where we go from here."
Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Neil Abercrombie,
D-Hawaii, joined Gilchrest Wednesday at the Cannon House Office Building.
Congress has a traditional and constitutional role of leadership in wartime,
Jones said, but the House has spent little more than an hour debating U.S.
policy in Iraq since the war began.
The congressmen decided to seek renewed House debate last spring, they
said, after inadequate briefings with defense officials and private concerns
of colleagues made them question Congress' understanding of the Iraq
Jones timed the resolution effort to fall before the two-week break in
mid-April, an ideal period for constituents to press their case with members
Although Gilchrest voted to authorize President Bush's use of military
action in Iraq in 2003, the congressman said now he is disappointed with the
lack of discussion and planning before the invasion. He said he expected the
same level of thoughtfulness as that preceding the first Iraq War under
President George H.W. Bush. Congress needs to dig deeper than simply saying
it supports and prays for the troops, Gilchrest said.
So far 2,339 U.S. soldiers have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom,
including more than 40 in Maryland. Overseas military operations cost the
United States roughly $10 billion a month, Abercrombie said, creating
budget deficits in other areas.
Gilchrest and his colleagues pointed to a March USAToday/CNN/Gallup Poll,
in which 67 percent of respondents said the president does not have "a clear
plan for handling the situation in Iraq," as one reason the House should
sign their resolution. They also cited reports that the administration
mishandled intelligence and current tensions with Iran.
More than 80 representatives have signed the resolution, but 218 are
needed to begin debate on the floor.
The news conference frequently took on a solemn tone. Gilchrest and his
colleagues stood in front of stark images from the war, such as a Cincinnati
boy at his father's military funeral. Another photograph showed an American
veteran sitting in a wheelchair. He had no arms or legs.
Jones said he wanted to face the "Lord my Savior" when he died and hear,
"Walter, you are welcome because you sought the truth."
As a veteran, Gilchrest said he can't help but relate to the young
soldiers of today. He does not think about the parallels all the time, but
it's "a part of your being."
Gilchrest said he did not question Congress' ability while he was in
Vietnam, but began to ask questions when he came home and read the Pentagon
"We assumed," he said, "that the government knew what it was doing."
University of Maryland
Philip Merrill College of
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