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Reaction to Bush speech falls on partisan lines

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tennessee reaction to President Bush's address to the nation Wednesday night appears to fall more or less along party lines, with Democrats criticizing Bush's proposals while Republicans express cautious optimism.

Bush's new strategy increases U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 and demands greater cooperation from the Iraqi government.

Deborah Bailey, newly-elected chair of Bedford County Republican Party, said the speech was "one of the most detailed speeches" the president has given about the war effort.

"It sounds like he's got a plan that has possibilities," said Bailey. "Only time will tell, but I'm optimistic."

Lucy Craig, chair of Bedford County Democratic Party, said her views are in line with the official Democratic response from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., which followed Bush's speech. Durbin criticized the prospect of sending more troops, saying that 20,000 additional troops would be too little to stop the civil war and too much of a sacrifice over and above the lives already lost.

"My reaction is the same as Sen. Durbin's," said Craig. "I just echo his sentiments."

"Our troops have bravely performed their missions in Iraq," said U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, a Democrat, "but I have reservations about escalating our involvement by deploying more troops and spending more money in Iraq. I'd like to learn more details about the President's plan because it appears that most American generals, the Iraq Study Group and the Iraqi Prime Minister oppose additional U.S. troops, believing an escalation of troops could ultimately lead to an escalation of violence from insurgents. I would like to see the Iraqis take more responsibility for securing the peace in their own nation."

Tennessee's two U.S. Senators, both of them Republicans, were cautious but hopeful in their responses to the president's speech:

"Sending 20,000 more American troops into Iraq to try to stop sectarian violence is not by itself new or a strategy for success," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in a news release. "If the President is finally putting Iraqi forces in the lead and American forces in support, this is different -- and should allow us to start bringing troops home sooner. The United States will be in Iraq for a long time, but it ought to be in a limited, supporting role. At this point, that's the best way to defend United States interests and honor the sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands who have fought for us."

"All of us want to see a stable Iraq," said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in a news release. "All of us want to see our men and woman in uniform come home as soon as possible. We all know that something different needs to occur. 

"It is important that the Iraqi government is making a stronger commitment: with military and security forces, a commitment to spend $10 billion in a rebuilding and jobs creation program, to move more quickly to an oil revenue sharing agreement for Iraqi citizens, and by creating political reforms. It is also important that a time frame of November is set for Iraq to take responsibility for securing all of its provinces.

"With that in mind, I look forward to hearing the plans more fully discussed in the Foreign Relations Committee, on which I sit. We'll hear from Condoleezza Rice this week and other expert witnesses in the coming weeks, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say."

Bush said the United States planned to hold Iraqi government to a series of benchmarks, though he did not say what the consequences for the Iraqis would be. Among those steps:

* The Iraqi government would take over security in all of the country's provinces by November.

* Iraq would pass legislation to share oil revenue among all of Iraq's ethnic groups.

* The Iraqi government would spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction.

* A free hand, promised by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for Iraqi and American forces to enter any neighborhood seen as responsible for sectarian violence.

Associated Press reports contributed to this story.

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