• Gov. Douglas escalates criticism of war
    By DARREN M. ALLEN Vermont Press Bureau | January 12,2007
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    MONTPELIER — Citing his and Vermonters' frustration over the "lack of success" in Iraq, Gov. James Douglas on Thursday condemned President Bush's plan to send nearly 22,000 more troops to the war-torn nation.

    "Intuitively, it doesn't seem to make sense to me," Douglas, a Republican with close ties to the White House, said during his weekly press conference. "I'm not persuaded that it will lead us to a successful exit strategy."

    Douglas' strong words came a day after Bush addressed the nation and said he was committing 21,500 more troops to prevent what he called "failure in Iraq." The Republican president said the move is necessary for "the survival of young democracy that is fighting for its life."

    The president's plan has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Vermont's three-member congressional delegation unanimously panned the plan.

    "The president still does not seem to realize that the history of the mess in Iraq is a litany of bad choices," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a long-time critic of the war. "We should not compound those mistakes with yet another wrong term."

    Douglas often tries to steer away from offering opinions on national and international matters during his weekly press gatherings, but ever since he called for the formation of an exit strategy more than a year ago, he has become more openly critical of the president's course in Iraq.

    He repeatedly peppered his remarks on the war with the words "failure" and "disappointment" and expressed his wish to have it end — or at least have in place a credible plan to get American troops out of the country.

    "I'm not persuaded that the policy direction will work," Douglas said. "Most Americans are skeptical, like I am, that this strategy will lead to a successful exit. Vermont has suffered greatly in the current war, and I hope that we can expeditiously bring Vermont's troops back home and out of harm's way."

    His remarks Thursday were his strongest to date against the war and a president he has supported. He said that he expected to convey to Bush his objections to more troops next month during a meeting of the National Governors Association.

    Douglas took about two years to begin criticizing the war. He supported Bush's decision to invade Iraq when it happened nearly four years ago.

    "I know that all Vermonters, regardless of their views on war to disarm the Iraqi regime, will continue to support our men and women in uniform," he said in March 2003. "We all want peace. Unfortunately, there are times when peace must be defended by fighting terror and tyranny."

    Douglas made his first calls for an exit strategy in December 2005, but he still maintained that some progress was being made in Iraq. He reiterated his assertion of progress in a surprise one-day trip to the country last March.

    "I saw some real progress, especially in regard to the development of a police force in Iraq," he said then.

    At the time, he declined to categorize the Iraq war as a mistake, something the state's congressional delegation — and a vast majority of Vermonters — had already done.

    "I really don't see the value in looking backward," he said then. "I don't think there is much point to second-guessing the policy decisions of the past."

    But Thursday, the governor inched closer to declaring the war a mistake.

    "As I said some time ago, we need an exit strategy from Iraq," Douglas said. "The people in our state and in all states are frustrated by our lack of success."

    An Associated Press poll conducted this week found that 70 percent of Americans oppose President Bush's plans to send more troops to Iraq. In the Northeast, 79 percent of those polled were against sending more troops. The president's overall approval ratings, according to the poll, were the lowest they've ever been, at 32 percent.

    Contact Darren Allen at darren.allen@rutlandherald.com
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