Monday, June 20, 2005


Bush should clarify
plan for Iraq exit


Rep. Neil Abercrombie and three other House members have called for drawing down troops in Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006.

REFLECTING Americans' growing frustration and pessimism about military and political progress in Iraq, a small, bipartisan group of congressmen including Rep. Neil Abercrombie is calling for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. A premature withdrawal could bring disastrous results, but the Bush administration needs to clarify its expectation of milestones that would ensure lasting stability in Iraq.

Abercrombie, fellow Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., introduced a resolution calling for President Bush to start bringing home troops by Oct. 1, 2006. "By keeping our troops in Iraq," he said, "we're asking them to resolve political and social issues that need to be resolved by Iraqis themselves."

Recent polls indicate substantial support for such a "Homeward Bound" scenario. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 60 percent of Americans think the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq. A New York Times/CBS News Poll indicates that only 37 percent approve of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, down from 45 percent in February.

Abandonment by U.S. troops before Iraq's security forces are strong enough to withstand hostility could lead to a civil war. Insurgents would claim that they conquered the infidels, and the seedlings of a democratic system could wither across the Middle East.

Insurgents "see where we have withdrawn previously, in Vietnam, in Beirut, in Somalia, and nothing would make them happier, I suppose, than to think that there is a deadline out there," said Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Last week Vice President Dick Cheney absurdly interpreted the increased violence in Iraq as a sign that the insurgency is "in the last throes." He went on to say that he expected the war would end before the Bush administration leaves office in 2009. That is hardly encouraging.

Abercrombie's resolution is not likely to receive serious consideration. Most Republicans and many Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, oppose setting a specific timetable for withdrawal of troops.

However, the House International Relations Committee approved a measure calling for a plan for establishing a stable government and military in Iraq that would "permit a decreased U.S. presence" there. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the committee's chairman, and 12 other Republicans voted for the measure, which passed 32 to 9. That is the kind of exit plan that should be forthcoming from the White House.


Passport rule delay
will help tourism


The U.S. has postponed implementation of stricter passport requirements for visitors from visa-waived countries.

A potential obstacle of tourism has been removed by the Bush administration's decision to postpone imposition of high-tech passport requirements that Japan and many other countries have yet to meet. The delay recognizes that Japan and many European countries need more time to comply with the new safeguards.

Congress enacted a law in 2002 that would require the 27 nations whose citizens can enter the United States without a visa to carry passports embedded with identification chips holding the person's fingerprint, iris scan or photograph. The deadline was extended from October 2003 to 2004 and then to this October.

The Department of Homeland Security now has extended the deadline to October 2006 and will require that the chip contain only a digital photograph, not a fingerprint or iris scan. Japan's passports already meet the photo standard.

The extension does not affect South Korea, whose citizens must have visas to visit the United States. The State Department requires visas of visitors from any country where at least 2 percent of visa applications are rejected; the current rejection rate for South Koreans is 3 percent. Gov. Linda Lingle is urging swifter processing of Korean visas, which can take several weeks.

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