Porter, Heller praise withdrawal strategy

WASHINGTON — Two Nevada lawmakers who have come under pressure from anti-war groups for their views on Iraq said Thursday night that they welcomed President Bush’s drawdown plan for U.S. troops and would be reluctant to alter it.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., said that although he believed more troops could be brought home sooner, he found the president’s plan to gradually withdraw roughly 30,000 soldiers through next summer acceptable as a start.

“I am optimistic we can accelerate the withdrawal,” Porter said. “I think we can bring troops home sooner.”

But Porter said he would not vote to redeploy troops at a faster pace or change their missions beyond what Bush proposed based on recommendations by Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commanding officer in Iraq.

“I don’t think those decisions should be made by the politicians in Washington, but by the generals,” he said. “I am optimistic they will encourage more withdrawals.”

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., applauded the new Bush strategy as signaling “the beginning of the endgame” in Iraq.

“We are sending a message to the Iraqis that we are not there for the long run,” he said. “We are sending the right message that it is time for them to start running their own country.”

Like Porter, Heller said he would not favor Congress altering the drawdown schedule.

“I would have to get confirmation from Petraeus for that to happen,” he said. “If it can be managed under Petraeus’ leadership it can continue.”

Heller added: “Any manner we can bring the troops home sooner I would support.”

Porter and Heller were targeted by anti-war groups after their support earlier this year for the U.S. troop “surge” in Iraq. Both traveled to Iraq this summer, Porter for the fourth time.

Porter said his view was formed by his visits.

“I listened firsthand to the military, and they are telling me they are making substantial progress,” Porter said.

Testifying to Congress this week, Petraeus said that troop withdrawals he has recommended would be carried out through next July, but that decisions on further drawdowns should be put off until March.

Bush’s withdrawal order is expected to reduce the U.S. troop count in Iraq from about 168,000 to about 132,000, roughly what it was before the surge.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday night that it is unacceptable “to keep at least 130,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely.”

“The president has offered only a commitment to endless war that will continue to take American lives, deplete our Treasury and divert our focus from fighting an effective war on terrorism,” Reid said in a statement.

Bush “is trying to run out the clock on his failed strategy and leave the hard decisions to the next president,” said Reid, who has said he is seeking support among Republicans for Democratic strategies that would speed the drawdown and change U.S. missions.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said Bush’s strategy was sound because it was based on advice from Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq.

“The president tonight outlined to the American people the best way forward in Iraq,” Ensign said in a statement. “Unlike some, he has listened to the recommendations of our troops engaged in the battle in Iraq.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., was marking the Rosh Hashana holiday and was not available for comment on the speech.

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