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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Kline's Unyielding Support for the War in Iraq

No single issue defines John Kline as a candidate and a Congressman more than the war in Iraq. His views on Iraq run straight along the GOP party line. Consider this remarkable interview he did for the Star Tribune on June 28, 2004 (all ellipses in original).

ST: The basic idea about the Iraq war was to remove Saddam Hussein, establish democracy and go home. How do you think the United States is doing in meeting its goals?

Kline: The military operation in Iraq was more than just about removing Saddam Hussein and establishing democracy. It was to prosecute the larger global war on terror. I think the president made very clear after he talked to us after Sept. 11, 2001, that this was going to be a long war. . . . So in meeting the goal of prosecuting the enemy - and holding those nations that support, harbor and train terrorists equally responsible - I think we're doing pretty well. We have killed and captured an awful lot of people. Certainly it was the objective to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and certainly that's been done. Bringing democracy, we're making remarkable progress.

ST: Do we need to ratchet down our original expectations about establishing an Iraqi democracy?

Kline: I don't think so. That's exactly what we're going to establish is an Iraqi democracy. That's different very probably from an American democracy, or a British democracy. But the will of the people will be determined through elections. What form it is going to be, a republic, or a pure democracy, we don't know right now.

ST: If Iraqis choose a theocracy that imposes Islamic law in the country, could the United States live with that, or should it intercede to force a democratic government more in line with our own?

Kline: I think we could not live with the Taliban essentially moving from Afghanistan into Iraq. To me, that would be a failure. I don't think that's likely to happen. Iraq has been more secular than Afghanistan. . . . I just don't think it's likely that there would be a move to reestablish the Taliban.

ST: With a three-way power struggle between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - with Saddam loyalists thrown in as a wild card - how do you rate the chances of avoiding civil war and achieving long-term stability in Iraq?

Kline: Actually, I rate the chances pretty high of avoiding a civil war. It's my understanding . . . that there really is a sense in Iraq of being Iraqi. Yes, there are the distinctions that you outlined. You would think the Kurds would be the most problematic, because they're geographically isolated largely in the north, and there's been an effort on their part for generations to have an independent Kurdistan. Having said that, though, they seem to be working together well now, and they understand that their future lies in a combined Iraq, with its enormous potential for wealth, oil, agriculture and water.

ST: Do you think the war in Iraq and the toppling of Saddam has made America safer?

Kline: Yes, I do. It's recognized by everybody, on both sides. . . . Everybody in the civilized world understands that Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy. He's a mass murderer, torturer, on a scale that's hard for us to envision. But more than that, if you're prosecuting a global war on terror, going after them where you can find them, well, there's a concentration now. Iraq is the focal point in the world in the war on terror. So we're able to hunt them there and concentrate, and that's a good thing. It does make us safer.

ST: Considering the costs to the United States - both in treasury and life - do you think it has been worth it?

Kline: Absolutely. You don't like to lose one life. But we were all going about our business on Sept. 11, 2001, and we were attacked. War was brought to us. Thousands died. It should have convinced all of us that we were at war, and that they were going to come after us. So you have to keep it in that context, of how we're going to fight this war, with the money we've spent and casualties we've suffered in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other places. It's much better than fighting it here.

ST: How long do you expect significant numbers of U.S. troops to be stationed in Iraq?

Kline: I would expect it would be years. Certainly we'll have a formal presence there until after we have the elected government, which won't be until 2005. I shudder to bring this up, but if you look at Bosnia and Kosovo, it's eight years or so we've been there now. We were 60 years in Japan and Germany, 50 years in South Korea. I'm not projecting it will be decades like that. But I would suspect it will be quite some time . . . a couple of years, at least.

Note how Kline twice implies an Iraq/al Qaeda connection, despite the fact that the 9/11 commission had conclusively dismissed any connection just days earlier. Note how he measures success in the war by the number of people captured or killed --- the majority of whom were innocent civilians. Note how he casually dismisses the possibility of a Shiite theocracy in Iraq. How he thinks there's a high probability that civil war will be avoided. The fallacy that just because "bad guys" are attacking our troops in Iraq, they won't try to attack elsewhere as well. The false choice of fighting terrorists in Iraq versus fighting them here. Pretty much the only thing he got right was the fact that the U.S. will be involved in Iraq for years --- at least if Kline and those who think like him continue to make the decisions.

As a bonus, check out this timeline of Kline's statements about the war:

  • The country should invade Iraq even if the international community objects to such plans, he added. "It's not a matter of how many allies we have or whether Middle Eastern countries want us to go in there or not," Kline said. "The point that I believe is absolutely true is that we're in danger. We here in America are in peril and we have to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves" (Pioneer Press, August 28, 2002).
  • Kline, who served in the Marines for 25 years, was saying he supported military action against Iraq long before it came to a vote in Congress . . . (Pioneer Press, October 24, 2002. Congress authorized military force against Iraq on October 10, 2002, thirteen months after the 9/11 attacks. Does Kline's support for military action against Iraq "long before" that extend back before 9/11?).
  • Kline had strong words for people who continue to object to the war but say they're behind the troops. "I fully understand that people have a right to protest," he said. "What makes me angry is when they speak out in protest and then turn around and say, 'But I support our troops.' No, that's duplicitous. I don't accept that" (Star Tribune, March 21, 2003).
  • "The overwhelming evidence with which the president was presented at that time -- as well as additional information that has since been discovered -- justifies this vote. The success of the military campaign and the progress we are making toward reconstruction of Iraq reflects why the vote was necessary and right" (Pioneer Press, October 10, 2003).
  • "One thing we came away with was that they really want to make sure we're in there for the long haul," he said. "Not that they want us to stay as an occupation force, but they want to make sure we're not going to turn around and walk out before things are in better shape than they are" (Star Tribune, October 14, 2003. Kline was reporting what he heard from the Iraqi people on a recent trip to Iraq).
  • "No, I do not think [Rumsfeld] should resign or be fired. We're engaged in a global war on terrorism with significant combat operations going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military operations around the world. He's done a very good job trying to transform the military and provide leadership for these operations. It would send a terrible signal to our troops, undermining their confidence in leadership, and a terrible signal to our enemy, telling them that they can succeed in determining our steps over here. We need to not be reacting to them" (Star Tribune, May 9, 2004, after the Abu Ghraib abuses were revealed. Of course, firing Rumsfeld would be a reaction to criminal behavior on the part of our own troops, not a reaction to "our enemy").
  • "Actually, I rate the chances pretty high of avoiding a civil war" (Star Tribune, June 28, 2004).
  • "Success in Iraq is absolutely critical. . . . We need to stay until the job is done" (Pioneer Press, October 5, 2004).
  • Republican Rep. John Kline, a retired Marine colonel, said it would be "the worst kind of signal you could send" if the U.S. established a specific timetable for withdrawal (Star Tribune, June 19, 2005).
  • Kline said troop reductions are a near certainty in the coming year -- barring unforeseen circumstances. "If you're talking to me in eight or 10 months, and we're not starting to see ... actual withdrawals, I'll be shocked" (Star Tribune, Nov 24, 2005. The article cites current troop strength at 160,000, and cites a plan to reduce levels from 18 combat brigades to 15).

If Kline were to suddenly come out in favor of a phased and complete drawdown of troops, it would be the most stomach-wrenching kind of flip-flop. It simply won't happen. And although I give Kline full credit for holding firm on what he truly believes, it's too bad his beliefs are grounded almost completely in wrong ideas.


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