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Reynolds and Kuhl will wait and see on Iraq WNY congressmen back the president despite fading confidence among peers

Senate Republicans may be abandoning President Bush's Iraq War policies, but Western New York's two GOP House members are still staying the course.

Both Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, and Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-Hammondsport, said Wednesday that they are awaiting the results of a September report on progress in Iraq before passing judgment on the troop "surge" that added more than 20,000 U.S. troops to the force in Iraq starting in January.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Syracuse, also said he would withhold judgment on any withdrawal deadline until the lead U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, delivers that report in two months. But unlike Reynolds and Kuhl, Walsh has broken with Bush on the war and voted against the troop surge.

With the Bush administration planning to release an interim report on the war later this week, the three upstate congressmen remain part of a dwindling group of Republicans who are maintaining a wait-and-see attitude on the war.

Three key GOP senators -- Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- have said in recent days that they will vote for a Democratic proposal that orders a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days, with most U.S. forces to be withdrawn by the end of next April.

The House is expected to consider a similar measure today, but Reynolds dismissed it as an empty gesture.

"I look at it as political gamesmanship," he said.

Reynolds acknowledged he is disappointed that the Iraqi government has not come together to solve its sectarian differences and provide its own security.

"My patience is reaching its end on the Iraqi government," he said.

However, Reynolds said he would wait for the recommendations of the president and the generals on the ground in Iraq before coming to any conclusions on the war's future.

"I think the Democrats would like to promote 435 commanders in chief in the House," Reynolds said. "But there's one commander in chief, and that's the president."

Asked to assess the Bush administration's handling of the war, Reynolds said: "I don't have as much thought on . . . the Bush administration, how they've managed the war. I think people have said they've seen mistakes made. We're trying to modify those. Every war I've read [about] in history gets to that."

As for the war's eventual end, Reynolds said it won't come quickly no matter what Congress does.

"Some liberals in Congress misled part of America to believe that we can just say we're out of there and overnight we're gone," he said.

Kuhl agreed with Reynolds that congressional Democrats were stressing the war issue to cover up their failures on other issues.

And also like Reynolds, Kuhl expressed some dissatisfaction with the Iraqi government.

"I'm still disappointed that the Iraqi government doesn't appear in broad terms to be reacting as quickly as I would like them to react," he said.

But that's no reason to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and essentially send a signal to al-Qaida about the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq, said Kuhl, who also plans to vote against the Democratic resolution.

Asked about the Senate Republicans who are urging a change in U.S. policy in Iraq, Kuhl noted that the troop surge was already a major change in course.

"We've made significant changes already," Kuhl said. "How much farther does it have to go, I think the ambassador and Gen. Petraeus have to tell us," Kuhl said.

He said he would listen to what Petraeus has to say in September and then make a judgment about Iraq's future. But Kuhl also warned that a quick drawdown of U.S. forces could cause huge problems.

"I think you would be lighting a fire under the chaos in that country," Kuhl said.

Both Reynolds and Kuhl supported the surge, but Walsh didn't. He said that his observation of Northern Ireland over 15 years taught him that some conflicts can only be solved through diplomacy rather than increased military force.

"My view was that we should be surging in diplomacy, not the military," Walsh said.

Walsh was one of a dozen House Republicans who visited Bush several weeks ago to voice their concerns about the war. Asked how much Bush appeared to be willing to bend on Iraq policy, Walsh said: "Not much."

Nevertheless, Walsh said he would wait until the Petraeus report before deciding what the United States ought to do next in Iraq, even though Walsh isn't particularly optimistic.

"If things aren't going to be working in July and August, they aren't going to be working in September," he said. "But I'm willing to give the president that much time."

But Walsh isn't exactly certain that a quick pullout of U.S. forces will be an easy solution, either. Asked if he was worried that a result of a U.S. pullout would be rampant sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, Walsh said: "Of course."

And when asked what would happen in response to that growing bloodshed, Walsh said: "I don't know."

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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