Casey: Bush is off base; Senator says war's objective should be to establish functioning government

By James O'Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey yesterday rejected President Bush's comparison of the war in Iraq with prior conflicts in Korea and Vietnam along with the administration's resistance to a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, Mr. Bush equated the struggle against Iraqi insurgents to the wars against Communists in South Korea and in Vietnam. Mr. Casey, in Pittsburgh for a series of appearances after a recent fact-finding trip to Iraq, contended that the president was offering a false analogy.

"I wish the president would get out of the business of trying to defeat Democratic arguments by suggesting win-or-lose arguments that don't apply here," Mr. Casey, a Democrat, said.

"The objective is not for us to win or lose but for the Iraqis to have a functioning government ... When you look at it down the road, they're going to be here on the battlefield for a long time."

In recent days Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have acknowledged administration claims of progress by U.S. troops in Iraq, while continuing to question Mr. Bush's overall strategy.

Mr. Casey echoed their praise for the accomplishments in combat, but said that they could not on their own address the long-term political problems underlying the war.

Referring to his recent trip, he said, "The inscriptional part was the troops ... the bravery and dedication of the troops as opposed to the Iraqi government's failure to create a government of national unity. The difference is pretty profound."

Mr. Casey, who voted against the president's surge strategy, said it was a mistake to see short-term military successes as evidence of the overall success of the administrant's tactics.

"The debate on the cable shows and the debate in Washington is missing the whole point," he said. "The surge can't be considered successful unless there's progress with the government. You can point to military success here or there, but if the government isn't making progress, by definition, the surge isn't working because that's the objective, to allow for a functioning government."

Mr. Casey maintained that the president's arguments against timetables were wrong because, "Unless you force the Iraqis to confront those basic questions ... we're going to be there for many years and not just many months."