Washington, DC – Congressman Ike Skelton, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released the following statement in response to the President’s address to the nation on Iraq Strategy:

            “Over the last month, I have met with the President twice and have shared my concerns about escalating the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.  The proposed increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq is three and a half years late and several hundred thousand troops short.  The Administration had the opportunity before we invaded Iraq to heed General Eric Shinseki’s advice on the troop levels required to stabilize a country in crisis.  Sadly, the General’s recommendations were dismissed out of hand.

            This proposed troop increase is not a new strategy; it is a change in tactics.  The President’s announcement simply repackages a military plan that has been tried before – admittedly without today’s hype – but our experience has shown that a limited infusion of troops will not necessarily produce the improvement to Iraqi security that we hoped.  I remain to be convinced that increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will have a measurable affect on the security situation in Iraq.

            Only the Iraqis can change the situation there and bring lasting security to their nation.  The President says that Prime Minister Maliki has made commitments that will allow political and security progress.  This commitment must be backed up by action.  And the Congress and the American people must be able to see clear evidence of the Iraqis taking more responsibility for their security and unifying the sectarian divisions that are tearing that nation apart.

            I agree with the President that Iraq and the Middle East region are critical to U.S. national security interests today and in the foreseeable future.  We have strategic interests in many parts of the world.  To deal with them all, we must have a strong and capable military that is ready to deter, respond, or fight whenever called.  Our force is under tremendous strain and this troop increase will only make the strain worse.  While we will take a careful look at the President’s plan in a series of hearings, I remain convinced that a gradual and responsible redeployment of U.S. forces is the best way to help the Iraqis take responsibility for their security and to restore the full strength of our military.”