WASHINGTON – An opponent of the war from the beginning, Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan (search) said recent reports of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers reveals a broader lack of American preparation, mentally and tactically, for the conflict.
"I am very disappointed with the leadership of this administration in not preparing the American people for what needed to be done," he told Foxnews.com.
Ryan said that on top of not putting enough troops into Iraq, soldiers may have lacked the training to become the prison guards they now are.
"The biggest concern for me, obviously, is the abuse," said Ryan, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "I am concerned about that personally. And politically, this is awful because we are reinforcing some of the worst stereotypes that people in the Middle East have about us."
In the meantime, Ryan, one of the youngest members of Congress at the age of 30, has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. He cites reports of insufficient battlefield equipment, and what he calls diplomatic failures abroad.
"There was clearly a rush to do this and the rush kind of separated us from our allies, who after a few months might have been able to digest what we were trying to do," he said. Now, Bush is asking for billions of dollars for the war effort and rebuilding Iraq while "people in my district are losing jobs left and right. It’s a tough pill to swallow."
But Republicans say despite Ryan’s heavily Democratic district, it is doubtful his constituents are as virulently opposed to the war and the administration as Ryan.
"I think a lot of his own comments have been inflammatory and almost disrespectful to our military and our troops," said Jason Mauk, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party (search).
"(Ryan) has made some public comments about the war and our president that we in the Republican Party believe are incredibly inappropriate given that many of his constituents are serving on the battlefield and he’s given them very little moral support.
"I think that by and large, the majority of Ohioans — even those in the 17th District — are in support of the president and his actions and are determined to see the United States reach a successful solution to what we are trying to achieve," Mauk added.
Ryan, who grew up in Niles, Ohio, and served as a state senator for two years before beating out two incumbents in 2002 to join the House, said there is a serious difference between supporting the troops and veterans, and criticizing the policy.
"We’re supporting the troops, but we’re starting to question how we ended up where we are," he said.
He said his district — which sits mostly in the Mahoning Valley (search) — has often been disappointed by the failed promises of government. The steel mills that developed this area in wealth and vibrancy, particularly the metro area of Youngstown (search), have been dormant since the 1970s. The region has lost population and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Today, Ohio's 17th Congressional District (search) includes most of the old industrial areas of Mahoning Valley, including Youngstown, Warren, almost all of Trumbull County and parts of Akron and eastern Summit County.
The former congressman from the 17th District, colorful Democrat Jim Traficant (search), is in prison on fraud and bribery charges. While facing indictment in 2001, his seat was redistricted to reflect the loss of population in the area. His hometown south of Youngstown was put in the 6th District, but Traficant launched his campaign for the 17th District anyway as an independent, and continued to run after he was thrown in jail in 2002.
In the primary, Ryan beat seven-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Tom Sawyer, who was also re-districted and running in the newly formed 17th District. Ryan ultimately won the seat, beating Republican State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin and Traficant, 51 percent to 34 percent to 15 percent respectively.
Today, the district is heavily Democratic, retaining its old, industrial union roots.
"The 17th District is historically a hard nut to crack for Republicans," said Mauk. "We ran a strong candidate and put a lot of time and money into the race two years ago and still came up short to a relatively unknown rookie."
Ryan says he has worked hard since then to overcome his status as a freshman member of the House, focusing on trade and outsourcing issues, as well small business, health care and veterans benefits for the district. His more sage Ohio colleagues say they have been impressed by his energy.
"It’s hard to believe this is only his first term — this is an experienced legislator," said 11-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. "I say, ‘We’re glad you’re here!’"
Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Ryan shows "great passion and energy to his work," but never "shoots from the hip when he doesn’t know something.
"I know he’s working hard in his home district," he told Foxnews.com. "He’s well-liked because he doesn’t let it go to his head, as a young man, coming to Congress."
Mauk said that it is unfortunate that a district so beleaguered by failed Democratic policies spanning over decades would continue to vote the party line.
"Democrats have held every elected office in there for over a decade now and it’s a region that consistently lags behind in economic development, and health care and job growth," he said. "These are areas that are still not being addressed by Congressman Ryan, but Democrats simply want to point fingers at Republicans."
Meanwhile, Ryan said he’s looking forward to the re-election campaign, if only to meet more of his constituents face-to-face. "A lot of the promises we made we’ve kept," he said. "I’m excited about the opportunity to get out and let the people know what we’ve done for them."