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Muskogee Phoenix - Coburn: Troop Withdrawal is Not an Option

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Location: Muskogee, OK

Muskogee Phoenix - Coburn: Troop Withdrawal is Not an Option

By Cathy Spaulding

The afternoon before President Bush's progress report on Iraq, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn said he believes American troops have made progress since escalation was ordered in January.

"There's no question there's been marked improvement since January and February," the Muskogee Republican said while visiting the Muskogee Phoenix Thursday.

"Surrender isn't an option, withdrawal isn't an option. We just have to stay the course."

On Iraq, Coburn said that since the troop surge began, there has been a 70 percent decline in car bombings and a 65 percent drop in suicide bombings.

"Casualties are less than what we expected," he said. "But there is still a group of al-Qaida who do not want a normal Iraq."

In Thursday's address, Bush announced that he has accepted the recommendations of the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, that a gradual phase-out of the troop escalation ordered in January will begin this month and finish by next summer, if conditions allow.

He also discussed Iraq's failure to make political progress to ensure stability.

Coburn said Iraq cannot make political progress when there is no civil progress. He said Iraqis still have electricity for only four hours a day. Families still have to contend with snipers.

He said he expects a proposal in the Democrat-controlled Congress to stop funding for the Iraq effort.

"But they don't have the votes to stop the funding," he said.

In other issues, Coburn also said federal money is better spent "fixing bridges and roads" than on earmarks to pet projects. He said the U.S. Senate's rejection of his amendments to put bridge safety before home-district projects is "a resounding victory for business-as-usual pork-barrel spending in Washington."

He said federal money also should not be used for Arkansas River development projects in Tulsa.

Coburn said the government must be more accountable and transparent. He said he supports the bipartisan Open Government Act proposed by Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Cornyn, R-Texas that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act.

"I have to do FOIA requests all the time," he said.

Coburn said the United States also needs to be firm with China in terms of trade. He attributed America's trade deficit to "a lack of courage and leadership."

He said government and industry allowed China to expand on its weak yuan.

"The only way to have free trade is to have free flow of currency," he said. "I don't believe we can have service economy."

Coburn also predicted health care will be a top issue in the 2008 presidential race. He said promoting preventative measures such as exercise and nutrition through the media can help curb health problems. He also said his staff continues to research the effectiveness of Woodsy Owl, Smokey Bear and hundreds of other government program mascots in getting their messages across.

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