Pelosi's Statements on Troop Levels Have Shifted as Iraq War Draws On

Rep. Nancy Pelosi's public statements on Iraq decidedly fall in favor of a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops, but the House speaker's position hasn't always been for a "cut and run" approach.

In mid-2004, then Minority Leader Pelosi called for increasing the number of troops in Iraq and scolded the administration for not incorporating more troops into its initial war plans.

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The conflicting statements may make for a useful political weapon by opponents, but an aide to Pelosi said the contrasts do not reflect any inconsistency and should be viewed in terms of then and now.

"You also have to compare and contrast the situation in the war in Iraq," spokeswoman Jennifer Crider told on Tuesday.

President Bush is preparing to deliver a national address on Wednesday in which he is expected to announce his support for a military "surge" that would increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 20,000. Currently, about 132,000 U.S. troops are based in Iraq. Military officials said Tuesday that the surge will begin this month and build up gradually.

Top Democrats, including Pelosi, have decried the president's latest plans. Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday, "If the president is proposing an escalation, we want to see a justification for the mission." She added that any funding for a surge would be "subjected to some pretty harsh scrutiny."

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But asked point blank in May 2004, "Would you send more American troops in order to stabilize the situation?" Pelosi answered "Yes."

During a discussion with NBC's "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, Pelosi said she had a strong preference for more international involvement in Iraq, but suggested that given that other countries were unwilling to provide more troops at the time, something more must be done by the U.S. military.

"What I would do is and what I think our country must do in Iraq is take an assessment of where we are. And there has to be a leveling with the American people and with the Congress of the United States as to what is really actually happening there. It's very hard to say what you would do. We need more troops on the ground," she said.

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At the time of the interview, 137,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq along with roughly 25,000 international forces, according to an ongoing tally compiled by the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.. That level was down from February 2005, when violence in Iraq had spiked and U.S. troop levels had increased to 160,000 — 10,000 more than the initial troop force when the war began.

Pelosi said at the time that it is imperative to use U.S. diplomacy "to get more foreign, international troops on the ground. And we have to truly Iraqatize — internationalize and Iraqatize the situation." But she also criticized the administration, specifically then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, for dismissing the initial recommendation by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki to deploy 300,000 troops to fight the Iraq war.

"The clear and present danger facing the United States is terrorism. We have to solidify, we have to stabilize the situation in Iraq. As the [then] secretary of state [Colin Powell] has said, you break it, you own it. We have a responsibility now in Iraq there, and we have to get more troops on the ground."

But by December 2005, after surveys showed more than half of the U.S. public said the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and American forces killed there had surpassed 2,100, Pelosi's outlook had shifted dramatically.

She joined outspoken Vietnam veteran, Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., in calling for troop withdrawals. Voting in June 2006 against a resolution that rejected an "arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment" of troops, she also campaigned for the midterm election on the promise of moving U.S. forces out of Iraq.

Last week she and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Bush calling plans to send additional troops to Iraq a mistake.

"Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed," the two Democrats wrote. "Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution.

"Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. And it would undermine our efforts to get the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq," they wrote.

Bush has consistently and repeatedly stated that he would deploy troops based on the recommendations of commanders on the ground. Crider said Pelosi is the one listening to military officials, including retiring U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid, who told lawmakers in November that he does "not believe that more American troops right now is the solution."

Added Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway in December: "We would fully support, I think, as the Joint Chiefs, the idea of putting more troops into Iraq if there is a solid military reason for doing that, if there is something to be gained. We do not believe that just adding numbers for the sake of adding numbers — just thickening the mix — is necessarily the way to go."

The Iraq war is a sticky issue both for the Bush White House and Democrats, and even if Pelosi's positions have shifted, it's not a surprise, said Dani Doane of the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

She said Pelosi and other Democrats must mold their positions to the voters who put them in the majority, an electorate that was fueled largely by anti-war sentiment.

Pelosi's conflicting statements show Democrats "don't have a problem saying one thing and doing another," Doane said, adding that a dovish change of view isn't going to damage Democrats.

"I just don't see them losing any political skin over this," she said.