First-term Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania is among the many U.S. lawmakers opposed to President Bush’s proposal to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq. Although he would support any non-binding resolution opposing the troop surge that is likely to emerge from debate in the House of Representatives this week, Congressman Sestak recently introduced binding legislation, which sets a deliberate timetable for the re-deployment of U.S. Armed Forces from Iraq by 31 December 2007.
In a wide-ranging interview on VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Congressman Sestak, a former three-star admiral, told host Carol Castiel and VOA Congressional correspondent Dan Robinson that the worsening situation in Iraq is a product of sectarian violence. And he does not believe U.S. troops should referee an ongoing civil war. He believes that sending more troops to Iraq further increases the dependence of Iraqis on the United States, both politically and militarily, at a time when Iraqis should be shouldering increased responsibility for their country.
With 31 years of experience in the Navy, Congressman Joe Sestak understands both U.S. security interests and the welfare of U.S. troops. He vehemently disagrees with critics who argue that non-binding congressional resolutions, which oppose President Bush’s surge strategy, undermine U.S. troops on the ground or embolden the enemy. On the contrary, Mr. Sestak contends that members of Congress have a responsibility to discuss what is the best use of the military to pursue U.S. interests. The former three-star admiral says if there is one thing he has learned as a member of the U.S. military, it is that U.S. security is “dependent on a community of nations.”
For that reason, Congressman Sestak says he thinks President Bush’s overall approach to the world lacks a “strategy of engagement.” He notes that his command experience in the Navy taught him how essential it is for America “to work with and rely on allies and friends.” He suggests that Washington seems to have forgotten that lesson in Iraq. Congressman Sestak calls President Bush’s proposal of sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq “exactly the wrong strategy.” Instead, he says, America needs a strategy that sets a “date certain” for redeployment out of Iraq – while remaining in the region – so Iraqis realize that they will bear the “consequence” of making the political decision to shift the “motivation and allegiance of their army from sectarian leaders to the central government.” And finally, Joe Sestak believes Washington needs the “confidence” to negotiate with all the countries in the region, including Syria and Iran.
According to Congressman Sestak, the questions that most need to be asked are: Is America more secure by remaining in Iraq? Is the cost of remaining there worth the cost of not paying attention to other challenges around the world, such as North Korea, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, and the western Pacific?
Congressman Sestak says he thinks the Democratic Party did well in its first 100 hours on issues that he ran on, such as a minimum wage increase, support for stem cell research, and implementation of 9/11 recommendations. He says it is now time to address the “big” domestic issues – affordable and accessible health care for all, affordable and accessible education for all, and an economy that is “fair to everyone.” He stresses that national security ultimately depends on a strong economy with “educated and healthy individuals.”
This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For more News Analysis reports click here.