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Reid's words on war ring loudly
Las Vegas Sun


April 25, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's blurted statement last week that the Iraq war is lost may have damaged his party's standing as it heads to a showdown with President Bush.

Or he may have delivered just the kind of straight talk many Americans want about how badly the war is going and get public opinion - and some Republican votes - on his side.

Either way, his comment isn't fading away.

Pummeled all weekend for a statement critics say undercuts the troops, Reid attempted to shore up his credentials as a hawk. He reminded reporters that he was the first Democratic senator to vote for the 1991 invasion of Iraq.

"I'm not some kind of pacifist," Reid said. "I have been saying the same thing for weeks: Unless we change course in Iraq, nothing good will come of it."

Congress is preparing to give final passage to the Iraq bill with withdrawal language that won slim majorities in both houses. As Bush presses the case for his promised veto, the White House said Monday that Reid "seems to be in a state of confusion."

Matthew Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, a progressive think tank, said Reid "was drawing a line in the sand and saying: 'We will not be pushed around. You do not have a rubber stamp in Congress.' " Third Way helped Reid with a speech he delivered Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The Nevada lawmaker refused to back away from his comment that the "war is lost," but he steered toward a broader argument against Bush's strategy for a troop surge, saying military officials do not believe the war can be won by warfare alone.

"Winning this war is no longer the job of the American military," Reid told nearly 100 people at the Wilson center. "The failure has been political. It has been policy. It has been presidential."

Republican leaders in Congress have seized on Reid's comment from last Thursday as damaging to troop morale, and the outcry may thwart Democrats' efforts to gain enough crossover Republican votes to override Bush's promised veto, said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Yet Democrats believe Reid's boldness could help them with voters. Public opinion polls show that Americans no longer want troops in Iraq and look to Congress to provide leadership on the issue. Reid's comments could give hesitant Republicans a little cover.

Democrats are still not sure what exactly happened when Reid uttered those three words. Was he following a script? Or was he shooting from the hip, as Reid is known to do, because he's fed up with the war and what he calls Bush's "happy talk"?

Democratic senators, aides - even a local Nevada veterans group - rushed to Reid's defense in recent days, saying that the majority leader was merely using Washington shorthand for the broader point, which is that if the president continues down the same course, the war cannot be won.

Congressional scholar Ross Baker at Rutgers University believes Reid knows exactly what he is doing, even when he tries to smooth over the rough patches.

Baker compared Reid and Bush to "prize fighters before a championship match making a lot of extreme statements, bad - mouthing the opponents."

He added: "What you really want to do is be as truculent as you can to warn the other side they're going to have a tough time."


Lisa Mascaro can be reached at lisa.mascara(at)
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