U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman says the decision to withdraw troops in Iraq ought to be made by generals in the field, not politicians in Washington. But thatâ€™s not the way our system works, says Colemanâ€™s DFL opponent Al Franken, who enlisted a retired brigadier general today to help make his point.
Gen. John Johns, a combat arms officer who was a counterinsurgency specialist during the Vietnam era, said it was the Bush administration that made the decision to invade Iraq and stay there to fight insurgents. Some generals approve of the war and some donâ€™t, he said, but it doesnâ€™t matter; to suggest that Washington went into Iraq on the advice of generals and was leaving war policy up them, Johns said, â€œis pure poppycock.â€
In a conference call with Johns, Franken agreed. He said Coleman is â€œhiding behind talking points that just arenâ€™t true.â€
â€œHe tells you he wants generals on the ground to make decisions about if and when we change course, as if itâ€™s presumptuous for a senator from Minnesota to have an opinion about that,â€ Franken said. â€œIn our country … the generals on the ground execute [the governmentâ€™s] policy to the best of their considerable ability.â€
In a statement, Colemanâ€™s campaign responded: â€œAl Franken has called for cutting off funds for American soldiers on the front lines in Iraq. Senator Coleman knows it is better to listen to the recommendations of the commanders in the field, including those of General [David] Petraeus [head of U.S. forces in Iraq], than the partisan rhetoric of Al Franken.
â€œThe White House and Congress make the final decisions about our nationâ€™s military and foreign policy, but they do so with the input, knowledge and experience of the military professionals who serve our nation each and every day.â€œ
Franken has said that funding for the war should be tied to withdrawal timetables.
In his conference call, Franken said that Iraqis wonâ€™t get serious about taking responsibility for their country until U.S. troops are withdrawn. Thatâ€™s the only leverage we have, he said. â€œWe have built a culture of dependency based on our presence there,â€ he said.
Johns also dismissed recent reports of a significant shift in fortunes in Iraq, saying that the same predictions of â€œlight at the end of the tunnelâ€ were heard constantly during the Vietnam War.
The general described himself as a political independent who supported John McCain for president in 2000 but is backing Barack Obama this year, based on Obamaâ€™s pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq in his first 18 months as president.