SENATE RACE

In Shift, Allen Launches Harsher Critique of Iraq

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By Tim Craig and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) has been changing his tone on the war in Iraq in recent days as he tries to fend off a challenge from Democrat James Webb, who opposed the invasion even before it started.

Allen has been one of President Bush's strongest defenders of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, telling audiences that progress is being made and victory is around the corner. "Staying the course means that we don't tuck tail and run, that we don't retreat, that we don't surrender," Allen said a month ago in a debate with Webb on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But with a little more than two weeks until the Nov. 7 election in a race that is virtually tied, Allen has started to issue a harsher critique of U.S. war efforts.

He said Friday that the United States "must adjust" its tactics in Iraq, a departure for a politician who a month ago said it was wrong to "second-guess" his decision to support the war. "Mistakes have been made, and progress has been far too slow," Allen told reporters. "We can't expect to keep doing the same things and get different results."

Asked what mistakes have been made, Allen said the Bush administration waited too long to hold elections. He also said U.S. and Iraqi forces need to do more to disarm the militias that are terrorizing Baghdad. Iraqis and U.S. officials blame militias for mass kidnappings and slayings, for setting up unauthorized checkpoints and for causing much of the recent increase in bloodshed.

Kristian Denny Todd, a Webb spokeswoman, said Allen is "letting politics drive policy decisions."

"He is putting his finger to the wind," Todd said. "What you are seeing here is someone who really must not have a fundamental understanding of what is going on in Iraq. All he has done for the last 3 1/2 years is spout the White House position, and now, when the White House position is unpopular, he adopts someone else's position."

Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager, said Webb is the one "who hasn't taken a clear position on Iraq." Wadhams also discounted suggestions that Allen has changed his thoughts about the war.

"There has been no change," Wadhams said. "He and Senator [John W.] Warner have made their positions clear, and they agree with each other."

The shift in Allen's rhetoric has been pronounced since Warner began campaigning with Allen after a recent trip to Iraq. Warner, a moderate Republican, wants closer scrutiny of U.S. policy in Iraq, which he said is "drifting sideways."

On Thursday, Bush was the featured guest at an Allen fundraiser in Richmond. The president, who polls show is unpopular even in relatively conservative Virginia, railed against Democrats by suggesting they want to pull out of Iraq.

"They would have our country quit in Iraq before the job is done," Bush said. "That's why they are the party of cut and run. We will fight. We will stay. We will win in Iraq."


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