Local opinions on Iraq unchanged

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 2:48 a.m.
President George Bush's "stay the course" theme in his Iraq-policy speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy did nothing to sway the anti-war position of Dennis Jett or the pro-war stance of Tony Domenech.
"There was nothing new in the speech," said Jett, dean of the International Center at the University of Florida and former U.S. Ambassador to Peru and Mozambique.
"It was 2 years ago when Bush strutted across the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln and declared 'mission accomplished' and 'victory in the battle of Iraq,' " he said. "The training of Iraqi forces, as well as the reconstruction of Iraq's economy, are both still 90 percent undone and all the administration can do is assure us that they are working on it."
Domenech, a former Gainesville city commissioner who served in the Navy in Vietnam, said his conversations with his brother - a colonel in the Army Reserve - and others who have served in Iraq convince him that Bush's war policy is correct.
"I thought it was right in the first place, and it is no less right now," he said. "What does it say when you have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people standing in line to vote and people are trying to kill them? That it's not worth it? I don't think so."
Domenech said it's "undeniable that you can't set a timetable" for withdrawal of American troops.
"There are goals," he said. "But should those goals be stated publicly when we're at war? No."
Jett said he caught parts of Bush's televised address and also glanced at "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," the 35-page document the administration released to coincide with the speech.
"Everything is predicated on the fact that we are at war," he said. "But this war is not a war in the conventional sense, and victory isn't possible.
"This war is undeclared by Congress, and it's not a war that threatens the existence of the United States."
Like Vietnam, Jett said, the war in Iraq "was launched for political reasons. Bush needed a theme for his re-election. Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War because it was politically advantageous and ended it when that advantage was done.
"This war is being prolonged because Karl Rove (Bush's senior political adviser) hasn't issued instructions that it be ended," Jett said.
Domenech said war, like raising children or playing a football game, is complicated and "rarely goes according to plan." He said his experience on the City Commission demonstrated how difficult the decision-making process can be.
"There is an enormous amount of thought in whatever decision is made, and then you have to live with it and modify it based on the realities that take place," he said. "I'm not privy to what goes on in Washington, but I can imagine when they make these huge decisions, they are made sort of on balance."
Domenech said that in January he and his brother, the Army colonel, visited wounded Iraq veterans at a military hospital in the Washington, D.C., area.
Domenech's voice cracked as he talked about one of the patients they met, a female helicopter pilot who lost both legs and part of an arm when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her aircraft.
In civilian life, the woman worked for Rotary International, an organization Domenech is active in locally.
"You realize there are real close connections to all of us in this world," he said. "I'm a tremendously strong supporter of what we're doing in Iraq, but most importantly for the guys and girls over there."
Jett said he noted on the backdrop during Bush's speech that the words "Plan for Victory" were out of focus.
"They were all blurry," he said. "What we got was a very fuzzy plan for victory - in the speech as well as the background."
Domenech said that for him, the debate over Iraq policy "has zero to do with politics."
"People draw their lines based on their political positions," he said. "When a line is drawn in the sand, you have to decide which side you're on. I'm always on the side of America. We're going to be wrong at times, but you're not going to find me on the other side of the line."
Bob Arndorfer can be reached at 352-374-5042 or arndorb@gvillesun.com.

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