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Napolitano takes Dems’ heat for war support

Gov. Janet Napolitano’s recent statements supporting military operations in Iraq and saying she has no plans to call for a troop withdrawal drew criticism from members of the Democratic Party who have lost patience with the war.

Democrat Napolitano made her first visit to Iraq this month at the invitation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

After two days of conversations with soldiers, military commanders and other officials, she came away cautiously optimistic about the country’s security situation and the potential for success with the recent decision to increase troop strength in Baghdad.

“People that I met with were cautiously optimistic that they’re at least seeing improvement,” Napolitano told reporters at the time. “I think we’re restoring stability.”

Her stance, more in line with Republican Sen. Jon Kyl than with Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, both Arizonans, after their February visit to Iraq, is stirring unrest in the party ranks.

That’s especially so as Tuesday marks the country’s fourth year at war in Iraq.

Sherry Bohlen, whose 36-year-old son is preparing for a second Iraq deployment with the Army, said Napolitano’s words have “a lot of conversation going within the party.”

“As a mom whose son is once again going to be asked to put his life on the line, his future on the line, I’m puzzled,” said Bohlen, co-chairwoman of the Arizona Progressive Democratic Caucus.

The caucus generally represents the left wing of the party on issues ranging from the war to health care and economic justice.

“I’m puzzled at our leaders that are not connected with and responding to the will of the American people,” Bohlen said. “The American people spoke very clearly in November of ’06. Any politician or political party that doesn’t heed that message will pay the price in ’08.”

Arizona Democratic Party Vice Chairman Randy Camacho was less pointed but noted just the same that Napolitano “missed a great opportunity to provide a definitive position on the war.”

Napolitano could not be reached for response, but Democratic Party Chairman David Waid called the governor’s position “entirely consistent with Democrats.”

Napolitano provided some context last week when she met with Republican state lawmakers.

“In my view, we got into this war without thinking through everything we should have,” Napolitano said. “We should not get out of this war without thinking everything through. I do think we shouldn’t exit precipitously without giving this one more shot.”

Many Americans and Arizonans appear less willing.

Bohlen pointed to the November general election, in which it’s believed that the Iraq war weighed heavily on the minds of voters who handed control of Congress to Democrats.

More recent polling indicates that a majority of Americans no longer support the war.

But it’s not as simple as all that.

Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill noted that the troop surge remains in its infancy, so it’s difficult to gauge public opinion.

A poll of his at the end of January found that 52 percent of Arizona voters opposed the surge, 39 percent were for it and 9 percent had no opinion.

Far from sparking mutiny, though, political consultant and Napolitano confidant Barry Dill said that “the words ‘thoughtful,’ ‘reasoned’ and ‘respectful’ are what I’ve heard from Democrats, Republicans and independents alike” to describe the governor’s position on Iraq.

But Napolitano’s words run counter to the beliefs of Iraq critics.

That’s especially true, Merrill said, among progressives for whom the most important issue “is the war, our decision to go there and getting out immediately.”

Some Democrats, such as Camacho, want to set benchmarks for a phased withdrawal. Others, including Bohlen, favor a deadline of the end of this year.

The key, Waid said, is to “get out in a way that doesn’t compound mistake upon mistake.”

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