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Jul 28, 2008 11:05 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Challenger claims Bishop rhetoric inconsistent

Jul 28, 2008 11:05 AM

Iraq War veteran Lee Zeldin fired another round at U.S Representative Tim Bishop last week in his attempt to oust the incumbent congressman.

Mr. Zeldin, a native of Shirley and a U.S. Army Reserve Captain, is gunning for Mr. Bishop’s seat in the First Congressional District.

“There have been a lot of press releases from his office claiming how much he supports the troops,” Mr. Zeldin said, “But his votes in Congress against funding the troops do not match his rhetoric.”

In a ceremony in Coram earlier this month, Mr. Bishop presented a flag that flew over Ground Zero to the U.S. Army’s Fighting 69th currently deployed in Afghanistan.
“This flag is a reminder of the brave service of the first responders who risk their lives to rescue their fellow Americans,” Mr. Bishop stated in a release sent out by his office. “Today, their counterparts in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the courageous men and women of the Fighting 69th, continue to risk their lives in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.”

In Mr. Zeldin’s view, the flag presentation by Mr. Bishop was an insult to those fighting overseas. “A lot of people see him come to an event and pass out a flag or a medal, give a speech saluting and honoring the troops,” Mr. Zeldin said, “But then he goes back to Washington and votes to end the war by draining the troops of their ammo. There’s Long Island Bishop and then there’s D.C. Bishop and the people of this district need to know the difference.”

Responding to his challenger’s comments, Mr. Bishop said he has always voted to fund the troops, but refuses to give President George W. Bush a blank check. “My votes are there for everyone to see,” Mr. Bishop said, adding that he has voted to fund the war so long as a phased drawdown of U.S. troops was attached. “My record has been consistent. I support the phased withdrawal recommended by the bi-partisan Iraq study group. All of those funding bills have either been defeated or vetoed by the president.”

Mr. Zeldin argues that Mr. Bishop has used the lives of soldiers to win a political struggle. “If there were a majority of Tim Bishops in Congress our soldiers would literally be running out of ammo,” he said. “Regardless of how you felt about the war, we’re there now and we should forget about Washington politics.”

In Mr. Bishop’s view, continuing to give the president a “blank check” is not in the best of interest of the troops or the United States. “The president has said over and over again that we will stand down when the Iraqis stand up. Well, they have over 450,000 Iraqis in uniform. It’s their country,” Mr. Bishop said, adding that, in his view, the president has not articulated an adequate exit strategy. “So long as we have this open ended commitment, the Iraqis will have no incentive to stand up and take control of their own country.”

Mr. Zeldin believes that Democrats like Mr. Bishop and presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama are sending the wrong message to the troops, and to the world, by advocating a withdrawal with a set timetable from Iraq, likening that philosophy to Israel’s retreat from Lebanon in the summer of 2006. “Israel withdrew and Hezbollah declared victory. They were emboldened. They shouted ‘Death to Israel,’ and raised more money and recruited more terrorists,” Mr. Zeldin said. “If we follow that strategy, then our enemies will declare victory and shout ‘Death to America’ and they’ll be emboldened and they’ll follow us home.”

Mr. Zeldin also criticized the congressman for failing to support the troop surge in Iraq, which, Mr. Zeldin argues, has been a clear success. “Even anti-war Jack Murtha says the surge is working. That’s because he went to Iraq and saw it firsthand.”

Mr. Bishop, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Iraq with a congressional delegation, acknowledged that the surge in Iraq has achieved some success, but still maintains that the president’s decision to invade Iraq was a blunder and that it took the focus off Afghanistan, which the congressman says is, and has always been, the central front in the war on terror. “Part of why I want to decrease our forces in Iraq is so we can increase them in Afghanistan,” Mr. Bishop said. “One of the many tragedies about invading Iraq is that it allowed al Qaeda and the Taliban to return to pre-9/11 strength. Whatever gains we’ve made in Iraq we’ve lost in Afghanistan and that is the central front. We were attacked from Afghanistan, not Iraq.”

Mr. Zeldin, who has been harping on the congressman to visit Iraq, questioned the timing of the trip. “Why now? While he speaks highly of our troops, his voting record proves otherwise,” Mr. Zeldin said. “Could it be because he is challenged by an Iraq war veteran in November? Could it be because he finally feels safe because the surge he continues to deride actually worked?”

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