Shays claims he still supports Iraq war

A Republican lawmaker fighting for re-election said Sunday he has not turned against President Bush’s Iraq policy but called for a withdrawal timetable to light a fire under the Iraqi government.

Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican who is challenged by an anti-war Democrat, said his support of the war has not waned. Nor, he said, was his suggestion for a pullout timeline prompted by the primary defeat of another war supporter in his state, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is now running for re-election as an independent.

“I don’t know where Iraq takes me in terms of an election because I support the war in Iraq,” Shays told CNN’s “Late Edition.” “I haven’t changed my position one bit. I just want to light a fire under this (Iraqi) government.”

While Shays separated his Iraq position from the upcoming elections, the Democratic senatorial campaign chairman, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, used the Iraq issue to go on the attack.

“We have seen a lot of strength from this administration, but not too much in terms of smarts,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And with Democrats, they’ll get strength and smarts.”

Schumer said “there is a lot of sentiment” in his party to support a congressional resolution expressing no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld sparked more controversy last week when he said the world faces “a new type of fascism” and likened critics of the Bush administration’s war strategy to those who tried to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.

“Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?” Rumsfeld asked.

Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. of New Jersey, whose father co-chaired the Sept. 11 commission, called Sunday for Rumsfeld’s resignation.

“It has become clear to me in recent days that what is needed is a change of direction, policy and attitude at the highest levels of our defense establishment in Washington,” Kean said.

Rumsfeld is part of a renewed administration effort to win backing for the war, with the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice all speaking on the issue.

With just over two months until Election Day, Bush said last Thursday that opponents of the war who are calling for a plan to bring home troops would create a disaster in the Middle East.

Shays, a critic of the defense secretary, hardly endorsed Rumsfeld’s performance but said resignation was not a good idea.

“I’m not his biggest fan, but I’m not sure that with two years left in the administration, he should,” he said.

Shays, who has been to Iraq 14 times, said when he suggested a withdrawal timetable after the last visit, he was responding to critics who called for the United States to leave Iraq now.

“When I talk about a timeline, a timeline is based on when they take over the territory,” he said. “Then we get out and bring our troops home. We can’t leave before they (Iraqis) replace us.”

Shays said the Iraqi government “has been missing in action” in taking control of the country even as Iraqi troops “have been doing a great job.”

Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record) Jr., the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration has failed to offer a political solution in Iraq that could end the fighting.

“There’s no plan this administration has how to get the Sunnis to buy into this government, how to keep the neighbors out of a settlement and how to … decommission the militias,” Biden said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Without those things, there’s no prospects of success in Iraq. What’s the plan?”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press