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American Forces Press Service

Debate on Iraq Strengthens U.S. Democracy, Defense Leaders Say

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2007 – The debate on the war in Iraq strengthens U.S. democracy, defense leaders said in congressional testimony today. The danger, they added, comes when enemies see the debate and believe it signifies a lack of will.

With Congress debating non-binding measures on President Bush’s surge strategy for Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the members of the House Armed Services Committee that U.S. troops understand the debate over the war.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the dialogue here in Washington strengthens our democracy, period,” Pace said as part of his testimony before the committee. “There's also no doubt in my mind that, just like we look out to our potential enemies to see division in their ranks and take comfort from division in their ranks, that others -- who don't have a clue how democracy works -- … would seek to take comfort from their misunderstanding of the dialogue in this country.”

Pace said U.S. troops understand the legislative process and understand the need for debate. “But they're going to be looking to see whether or not they are supported in the realm of mission given and resources provided,” the chairman said. “As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide the resources for the mission, the dialogue will be the dialogue, and the troops will feel supported.”

Based on his experiences during trips to Afghanistan and Iraq since taking office in December, Gates said he believes the troops “do understand that everybody involved in this debate is looking to do the right thing for our country and for our troops and that everybody is looking for the best way to avoid an outcome that leaves Iraq in chaos.”

He said servicemembers are sophisticated enough to understand that the debate is really about the path forward in Iraq. “I think they understand that that debate's being carried on by patriotic people who care about them and who care about their mission,” the secretary said.

Since the first Neanderthal picked up a club, people have tried to see whether their enemies are divided, Gates said. “All I would say is, history is littered with examples of people who equated robust debate in Washington, D.C., for weakness on the part of America,” he said.

Pace said Americans, no matter what their feelings about the war, still welcome those who served home and thank them for their service. He said that is important to the men and women deployed to war zones.

“Despite our own citizens' beliefs for or against (the war), when our troops come home, their fellow citizens welcome them home and thank them for their service,” Pace said.

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