When Rep. Christopher Shays met with reporters Thursday morning over breakfast, his remarks sounded tinged with anguish.
The Connecticut Republican, a longtime supporter of the war in Iraq, is facing a tough battle for reelection against former Westport, Conn., selectman Diane Farrell. Among Mr. Shay's concerns:
• That his recently announced support for a phased withdrawal from Iraq is being viewed by some in the press as politically motivated. "You have taken away the one thing I have, and that is my credibility," Shays said.
• That there is scant progress in a war he recently called "a noble effort we have no choice but to win." At the Monitor-sponsored breakfast, Shays said, "Since January of this year there has been no progress" made by the Iraqi government.
• That the US remains vulnerable to attack while the nation's political dialogue often seems trivial. "I believe there will be a biological attack against this country. I believe there will be a radioactive attack against the country. I even believe there will be a nuclear attack. I have been to Los Alamos and I have seen a weapon made with material you could get from Home Depot. The only thing you need is enriched uranium," Shays said.
• That President Bush lacks credibility on the issue of the war. "The president has no credibility on whatever he says. People are not paying much attention. And the reason he doesn't have credibility is that we were wrong about the weapons of mass destruction and that is a fact," Shays said.
Shays gave a surprisingly personal response when he was asked why he viewed the war in Iraq as moral and essential even though he had registered for conscientious objector status during Vietnam. He first noted that the 9/11 attacks, which cost the lives of 81 of his constituents, "had a monumental impact on my life." Shays, who lists his religious affiliation as Christian Scientist, added that, "I am struggling with my own faith and that is something I don't want to talk about."
Later in the session Shays added that, "I am 40 years older than I was when I was a conscientious objector. I have changed my view about the need to confront evil."
Shays, who has been in Congress since 1987, is vice chairman of the Government Reform Committee and chair of its Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations. The subcommittee is the venue for hearings he has been holding this week on the Iraq war.
In a statement at the hearings, Shays said that an Iraqi security force level of 325,000 projected for this December will be inadequate and not sufficient to allow most US troops to come home. He is urging the Pentagon to reassess the total number of forces – Iraqi and coalition – needed to secure Iraq.
At the breakfast, Shays spoke about the Bush administration's plan for troop levels adding, "The reason they don't share this plan with you is, the plan has been wrong once, it has been wrong twice, it's been wrong three times, it's been wrong four times. So they have decided they would rather have you think they don't have a plan than a plan that doesn't work..."
Shays continued, "It is classified. But I can just tell you that what they expect to happen at the end of this year is absurd ... what I am looking for from this administration, and I have told them I will not give up, I want a number of what you need in a worst-case scenario. And when you give me that number, I can give all of you a timeline that tells the Iraqis when they have to step up.... It may be we have to add people before we subtract people."
Such blunt speaking may cost Shays his seat in Congress. "I don't know if I am going to win this election. I don't know. I am not going to argue with people who say it is a tossup, whatever," Shays said.
But the possibility of defeat seemed to trouble him less than being seen as trimming his policy position on Iraq to win votes. "The only thing that has shaken me is thinking that I don't have enough credibility with the press that they would think that I would make a decision on war or peace based on my election. I would at least like to know that if I lose this election, that I lose it doing what I thought was right, not doing something based on a political decision."