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col Gutknecht changes on Iraq

Congressman says visit persuasive to partial pulloutGutknecht changes on Iraq

Congressman says visit persuasive to partial pullout

In these times of dogmatic party loyalty, the most needed trait for a politician is the willingness to change position. It is among the most important measures of character and has been among the rarest demonstrated.

In mid-June, 1st District Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Republican, voted with his party to reject an arbitrary pullout date from Iraq.

In a Post-Bulletin interview about his House vote, Gutknecht said of the U.S. commitment in Iraq, "We've come too far to turn back now. The truth of the matter is that we are closer to victory than most people think."

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This week, after standing on Baghdad soil, Gutknecht said this of his barely 1-month-old quote, "I was wrong."

After a visit to Iraq, Gutknecht now believes the time has come to force Iraqis to take over the bulk of the on-the-ground security duty.

"My attitude now is that we need fewer troops," Gutknecht said. "I would love to see 25,000 troops home by Christmas."

Gutknecht does not say he supports an immediate pullout. Rather, he supports a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops as a means of communication. "That would send a message to Iraqis that, look we will stay for a long time, but more and more you are going to have to pick up the slack," said Gutknecht.

Gutknecht downplays his new position, but not the new understanding he claims to have gained from a firsthand visit to Iraq.

"Baghdad is more dangerous than I expected," Gutknecht said. This was reflected in a seriousness he saw in the soldiers' eyes.

While he praised the action of the troops, Gutknecht did not give the Bush administration's overall Iraq policy high marks "After three years and $322 billion I expected to see more results," said Gutknecht.

Gutknecht said he saw a different Iraq in the northern leg of his trip. In Kurdish-controlled north Iraq, Gutknecht said he saw political stability and a functioning economy.

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Gutknecht was impressed with the way the Kurds have maintained order. Gutknecht acknowledges that the Kurds are more homogeneous, but after a visit with the Kurdish prime minister, he says the Kurds' success comes from a decision to manage their own affairs and use an iron fist to address security.

Gutknecht wants to apply the Kurdish model to Baghdad. Namely, to induce the Iraqi Parliament to step up and manage its own affairs, focusing on its security. The way to send such a message, says Gutknecht, is to pull out some troops.

Cynics would say that Gutknecht's new position was politically motivated, an answer to a tough challenge from Democrat Tim Walz. It is a possibility, but do not think that the words, "I was wrong" come easy to an incumbent in a campaign.

More so, to find fault in a willingness to change by attacking motive is to create a situation of "criticized if they do and criticized if they don't."

The most important understanding here is that Gutknecht, a hardline conservative and Republican stalwart, has amended his past party-line position on the war in Iraq because his analysis of the situation on the ground demanded change. It is a trait that should be encouraged.

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