PHOENIX – Democrats nationwide generally say that the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq but remain divided over how and when.
Like their party leaders in Washington, members of the Democratic National Committee offered a range of opinions Friday about the recent call from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a Vietnam War veteran and strong military ally, for a complete pullout within six months.
"I think the presence of American troops are incendiary to all parties in Iraq," said Robert Bell, who agreed with Murtha's proposal. "I think eventually there's going to be a civil war. It's time for the Iraqis to take care of their own problems."
The DNC was holding a three-day meeting in Phoenix.
Marcel Groen, a committee member from Pennsylvania, criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war, but said the United States has a responsibility to prevent Iraq from becoming a long-term terrorist haven and keeping segments of the Iraqi population from fragmenting further.
"I'm on the extreme, which says now that we are there, we have got to figure out a way to build up the Iraqi army," Groen said. "The irony is that I find myself agreeing with what the president says in terms of (what we) have to do to get out of there. I just think it was a disgrace that we got in there the way we did in the first place."
President Bush has refused to set a timetable for withdrawing, but under growing pressure from Republicans and Democrats, he has indicated Iraqi troops will be trained by 2006, allowing American troops to shift to less visible roles.
John Olsen, a committee member from Connecticut, said Democrats have been unified in scrutinizing President Bush's strategy for the war, so much so that Republicans have taken up similar lines of questioning.
"There may be some differences of opinions (among Democrats) in some areas, but for the most that they are clearly saying that we need to review and change our approach in policy here," Olsen said.
Democrats seemed split over whether the party has been able to capitalize on problems nagging the administration, including the war in Iraq and federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Pat Maroney, a committee member from West Virginia, said the Democrats' lack of a unified message will not hurt them next year and in the 2008 presidential race.
"There has been healthy debate for the Democratic Party to point out to this country the massive mistakes that were made by this administration," Maroney said.
Patsy Arceneaux, a committee member from Louisiana, said the Democratic Party doesn't need to do much to capitalize on Bush missteps.
"At this point we just need to sit back and let them continue to make the mistakes they are making," Arceneaux said. "We don't even need to get out there and make an issue of it. They are doing a good job by themselves."
Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz said the Democrats are scrambling to find a cohesive message on the war.
"Today's Democratic Party does not have a stance on the critical issues confronting our nation," Diaz said.
Some Democratic committee members said the party should be careful to avoid being gleeful of any Bush administration troubles.
"No one wants to see a president fail, regardless of party," said Richard Machacek, a committee member from Iowa. "And if they do, they aren't much an American."
Gaetan DiGangi, a committee member from New Hampshire, said the Democrats shouldn't take a mean-spirited approach in pointing out Bush's failings.
"We are looking to offer something that's an alternative, and I think we are moving towards that," DiGangi said.