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Return Chris Shays to Washington



Bob Capazzo

We can’t recall an election in Connecticut that has created such intense national as well as local interest as the Shays/Farrell contest for the seat in the U.S. House or the unusual battle between Lieberman and Lamont for the Senate. Connecticut’s Republican incumbents in the House — Rob Simmons, Nancy Johnson and especially Christopher Shays — are being targeted by the Democrats in their attempt to wrest control of Congress. To this end, Farrell is getting some very hefty contributions from the Democratic National Committee. There are relatively few issues on which Farrell has been able to stake out a significantly different position from Shays, with one big exception: Iraq. Every other issue pales in comparison.

The Bush Administration is showing concern that things are not going well in Iraq. In spite of the American lives lost in this adventure, along with those of countless innocent Iraqis, and in spite of the multibillion-dollar cost, the only results so far have been to stoke fires of hatred of America in the Muslim world, to increase the threat of terrorism and to tarnish our image among our allies. And still there’s no solution in sight for bringing peace to the Middle East, or a road leading to our disengagement. George W. Bush and his neocon advisers may not be forgiven at the polls for having led us into war in Iraq with so little thought given to how to handle the occupation; and some very fine Connecticut Republican candidates are at risk from the fallout.

Diane Farrell’s threat to Shays’s reelection is all about the mishandling of Iraq by the Bush Administration. Her campaign rhetoric is a steady drumbeat attacking Shays for his support of Bush’s increasingly unpopular war. However, seen in a different light, Shays has been a well-informed critic of our handling of the post-invasion occupation of Iraq. He deserves great credit for the time and effort he has dedicated in his fourteen trips to Iraq to identify our problems and opportunities. He was the first congressman to enter Iraq on the heels of the invasion and has made more trips to that war-torn country than anyone in Congress. In order to get an unsupervised and unbiased view of the situation, he made many of these trips outside the umbrella of the military, much to the consternation of the Department of Defense that insists on exercising close control over what a congressman is allowed to see and whom he can talk to.

We may disagree with Shays over whether invading Iraq was necessary in our war against Al Qaeda or in the best interests of our country, but he must be given high marks for taking a hands-on approach to providing some much-needed congressional oversight of our role in combating the insurgency. As chairman of the influential House Subcommittee on National Security, Shays has been uniquely qualified for the role of “inspector general.” This is the only congressional body with joint oversight of both the Defense and State departments. On returning from each tour of Iraq, he has issued reports to the White House and the Pentagon on his observations with recommendations on ways to improve the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency operation and increase the economic and political stability of the country.

While he has been openly critical of the military operation in Iraq and has badgered the DOD for change, he still supports the war. And, although he is opposed to setting a specific date for troop withdrawal, he has recently modified his position, saying, “We need to have a sense of when our troops can withdraw. It may be the only way to encourage some political will by the Iraqis.”

Of greater significance to us is not whether Shays was one of the many who had been led to endorse the invasion of Iraq, but his outstanding performance as a nationally recognized congressional leader. In his role as a political reformer (Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and Congressional Accountability Act) and fiscal conservative, he has earned the respect of moderates on both sides of the aisle. The importance of seniority and committee assignments cannot be overestimated. Often taking a position in opposition to those of the dominant Republican far right, he is an important counterbalance within a party in desperate need of common-sense moderates.

We find Diane Farrell an attractive and appealing lady with great potential. Her problem is that as a new kid on the block in Congress, she will not have the experience, the knowledge, the key committee assignments or those all-important contacts that will allow her to realize her potential. Shays is in a position to represent us much more effectively, and we are fortunate in having someone with his energy, integrity and dedication to serve us in the nation’s capital. It would be a great loss to this district and the state if we did not return Christopher Shays to Washington.

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