About That War in Iraq
Congressman Neal Comes to Town,
The Questions Are Sharply Barbed
By Edward Shanahan
U. S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield touched down in Northampton not long ago for a ‘conversation,’ that turned into a full-scale attack on him for not being more aggressive in opposing to the war in Iraq.
At a packed morning meeting of citizens in the community room at the Media Education Foundation on Masonic Street, Neal, who clearly would have preferred to talk at length about such issues as Social Security, Medicare, and pensions, got an earful.
The anti-Administration and anti-Iraq war tone of audience was hardly surprising considering Neal was there at the invitation of the Northampton Committee to Stop the War, which sponsored the session.
While Neal explained that he was one of only about 100 members of the House to vote against the war originally, he was repeatedly lambasted for not supporting the so-called Woolsey resolution that calls for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops and for not voting against a $87 billion appropriation to fund the war.
“We’ve got to develop an exit strategy,” he told the more than 100 members of the audience. “I don’t see any daylight at the end of this tunnel.”
In answering a question put to him by John Sheehan, Neal said he could not support immediate withdrawal. “I’m not there yet … but I’m moving.” Neal also said he believed he had to support funding the war as along as U.S. troops were at risk. “Those soldiers are members of the American family, they did not choose that war,” said Neal. “While they are there they deserve humvees, body armor” and other essential materiel support.
As for withdrawing now, Neal said, “if you break it, you own it, that’s the problem we have. I’m concerned about a civil war. I want to be very careful about that.”
“I’m hearing echoes of Vietnam, we are there, we can’t get out,” declared William Ames. “I want you to vote no on the appropriation, you’ve got to start somewhere. If everyone says not me, then we’re stuck.”
In addition, members of the audience targeted the Democratic Party for blistering criticism. Frances Crowe asked: “Why are the Democrats enabling the White House while 63 percent of the public is against this war?”
Others accused the Democrats of “not having a strategy,” saying the party had power but was reluctant to use it or to label the Iraq war “criminal and fascist,” while Republicans had no trouble calling the Democrats “traitors” for criticizing the war.
Directing her comments specifically at Neal, Lisa Baskin said: “Richie, you have a bully pulpit, and many of us are disappointed that you don’t take advantage of that.” She insisted that the congressman needed to be more aggressive in taking the anti-war message to the media, local and national.
Neal said the Republicans have been very effective at telling their side of the story. “We’ve been a bit lacking on new ideas,” he said, referring to his own party.
Picking up Baskin’s criticism, William Norris chimed in: “We’re not hearing your voice.” Joining in, Bill Diamond asked: “How are Democrats - and how are you - going to make more noise?”
Referring to Republican success with the media, Neal said “we can’t shout over this crowd, it’s very difficult to be heard.”
He said that it is extremely hard to gain access to the media, citing the failure of the media to cover adequately the central issue of whether Saddam Hussein had amassed weapons of mass destruction, which was the justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
After nearly 90 minutes of ‘conversation,’ the meeting broke up with Neal agreeing that he will continue to evaluate his position on support for appropriations that finance the war.
Many more audience members had questions they wanted to ask, but Neal seemed relieved to be heading off to another meeting in West Springfield.
Before he left, one elderly woman in a wheelchair admonished him: “You’ve got a lot to learn. You haven’t been on the street enough. Come back and we’ll teach you.”
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