WASHINGTON - Tom Andrews, the former Maine congressman who used his position as national director of Win Without War to argue against invading Iraq, is now urging the Democratically controlled Congress to bring the troops home.
"The disaster in Iraq is the result of the lethal combination of arrogance, ignorance and incompetence of the administration," said Andrews, who served on the House Armed Services Committee during his two terms representing the state's 1st Congressional District. "It is dangerous and short-sighted to keep our troops in the crossfire."
Andrews, 53, spent years organizing opposition to the war through Win Without War, a coalition of about 40 groups ranging from Families USA to the Sierra Club to Veterans for Peace. The Nov. 7 election results created a climate for change, he said, and his coalition plans a major lobbying effort in Congress next month.
"The election was clearly about Iraq," he said. "Voters were demanding change."
Andrews questioned whether Bush would listen to the Iraq Study Group. The bipartisan group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, recommended beginning to withdraw troops by 2008 and opening discussions with other countries in the region, including Iran and Syria.
Bush has resisted talks with Iran and Syria and acknowledged that he is considering whether to send more troops to Iraq. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has proposed adding 15,000 to 30,000 troops to the 140,000 already stationed there.
"I will tell you we're looking at all options and one of those options, of course, is increasing troops," Bush said last week. "But in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops."
Andrews, a Massachusetts native, embarked on a career of public advocacy after moving to Maine and earning a degree in religion and philosophy at Bowdoin College.
Andrews, who as a young adult lost his right leg to cancer, was executive director of the Maine Association of Handicapped Persons during the 1980s. The group lobbied federal officials for handicapped regulations. He also campaigned against a proposal for nuclear waste storage near Sebago Lake.
Meanwhile, he won seats in the state House and Senate before winning a congressional seat in 1990. He lost a 1994 Senate race to succeed former Majority Leader George Mitchell, a fellow Democrat, to Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.
But he has remained involved in politics, leading to the latest campaign to withdraw from Iraq.
"Obviously there is an enormous opportunity here given the fact that there is a new Congress," Andrews said.
A clash between the Bush administration and Congress over Iraq could erupt quickly. The incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committees, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., each have been critical of U.S. strategy and each plan numerous hearings on the policy.
But Andrews is focused on Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., who will head the Appropriations subcommittee that handles defense spending.
Murtha, a former Marine and 16-term lawmaker, complained that attacks against U.S. troops have doubled from 400 per week to 800 since he first spoke out against the war a year ago. He said after the deaths of nearly 3,000 troops, the time has come to leave. America can't solve its domestic problems until it stops spending $8 billion a month on Iraq, he said.
"Staying in Iraq is not an option politically, militarily or fiscally," Murtha said in a statement Dec. 6. "Iraq is plagued by a growing civil war and only the Iraqis can solve it."
The Bush administration is expected to ask soon for another $100 billion to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, boosting the total for the year to $170 billion and the total overall to $350 billion, according to The Associated Press. Murtha's subcommittee will consider the request.
"The way to solve this extraordinary problem and get out of this quagmire is through Congress," Andrews said. "It's the only way out."
House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress would provide money to keep troops safe. But Congress will review how money is spent to ensure responsibility, she said.
"We will have vigorous oversight," Pelosi said at a news conference Dec. 6. "We will set standards."
To build congressional resolve, Andrews said anti-war groups will be meeting with lawmakers, holding public events, organizing via the Internet and advertising in key locations.
Congress returns a week from today. Many of the groups in the Win Without War coalition plan a march on Washington on Jan. 27, under the banner United for Peace and Justice.
"Depending on the amount of resources we are able to generate, it will be a robust campaign," Andrews said. "We will have a real opportunity to bring this matter to an end."
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