English at Jamestown

U.S. Rep. Phil English, R-Erie, outlines his opinion against setting a firm date to pull troops out of Iraq during a town hall meeting Saturday at the Lions Community Center in Jamestown.

The United States would be “foolish” to set a date for pulling troops out of Iraq and doing so would risk prolonging the war, U.S. Rep. Phil English said Saturday.

The six-term Republican lawmaker from Erie, unprompted by questions from residents, opened a town hall meeting in Jamestown by detailing his position on the war.

English, whose 3rd district covers most of Mercer County, said he opposes the establishment of any permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq and the date when U.S. forces can begin pulling out the country hinges on the Iraqi government making substantial progress in preparing its own troops to defend themselves.

“This is not a prescription for a long-term presence in Iraq and I feel very strongly that even though this has become a central theater in the war on terror there is a limit to which this is our fight,” English told about 15 residents at the Lions Community Center on Jackson Street.

The House earlier this month soundly rejected a bill that would have set a timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq. English opposed that measure. A similar resolution was defeated this week in the Senate.

“So far I have not seen a proposal out there that doesn’t create a paradox and that is to potentially extend the war by encouraging some of our adversaries that if they push hard enough, they may be able to run out the clock,” he said.

English, who is running for a seventh term against Democrat Steven Porter, said he brought up Iraq because it’s the issue he’s most often asked about by constituents. It is sure to be major issue in the campaign.

According to English, the Iraqi people have to decide for themselves if they want to live in a democracy. He believes the Iraqis revealed their commitment to that when they risked their lives to vote in an election.

“Everything we’ve seen shows them that they are committed to a democracy, but also that it’s going to be extremely difficult because they remain very divided,” he said.

He envisions that the role the United States has in Iraq will change in the near future be by decreasing troops on the ground in favor of more air support. He said the goal in Iraq is not one similar to post-World War II Germany when the U.S. maintained a strong military presence there for decades.

“The model here is one of getting to the point as quickly as we can where this is ... purely an Iraqi conflict,” English said.

At the outset of the meeting, English said people can debate all they want the reasons for sending troops to Iraq, but he advised the United States to learn from its experience in Iraq, particularly in the area of how it works with international institutions.

“If some of our partners had been willing at the front end to step up with us and be engaged, this whole conflict would have had a very different character,” English said. “We would have been carrying less of the load and it would have been less a U.S. versus Saddam or the West or America versus the Arab Middle East kind of a fight.”

English cautioned the Bush administration not to let the war in Iraq draw too much attention away from the country’s other international interests.

“We can’t allow Iraq to so tie us up that we’re not focusing on other international priorities as well,” he said.

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