"If anything, I'm more willing
to work to find a way forward," the Pleasanton congressman told reporters Monday during a
45-minute teleconference from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. "We need to find a bipartisan solution."
McNerney isn't persuaded, however, that Iraq is ready to protect itself against a terrorist takeover in the absence of U.S. troops.
Iraqi leaders, when asked, will say, "'You can leave today, if you want to,'" McNerney said. "I didn't get to talk to any Iraqi troops, but I'm not as optimistic as I would like." Ready or not, McNerney says, he delivered a clear message to the Iraqi leaders: The U.S. cannot remain in Iraq indefinitely.
"The timetable is really important," he said. "We do want to give them enough time to get them into a situation where they can resist (the insurgents), but we can't stay there forever."
The taxpayer-funded trip originated with House Minority Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who sought to help educate freshmen legislators with no seniority on committees that typically control congressional trips.
The other members of the bipartisan delegation included Democratic congress members Tim Mahoney of Florida and Keith Ellison of Minnesota; and Republicans Mary Fallin from Oklahoma, Dean Heller from Nevada and Peter Roskam from Illinois.
McNerney and his colleagues in the first all-freshman bipartisan congressional delegation to Iraq arrived in Baghdad on Saturday night, where they stepped off a military aircraft into the stifling, 120-degree desert heat.
They had dinner Saturday with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, where McNerney said military leaders sought to persuade the lawmakers to exercise patience.
"I was impressed with Petraeus' confidence," McNerney said. "... But he's aware of the pressure in Congress that we need to end this thing. He had a lot of data to show the progress. He's concerned about being given enough time to finish the job but he's aware that we need to come to a resolution."
On Sunday, the legislators flew via Black Hawk helicopter to Ramadi, a town 70 miles outside Baghdad where U.S. troops have successfully ousted terrorists. The flight was uneventful, except for a couple of flares that briefly gave McNerney the sensation of being under fire.
In Ramadi, McNerney and the others walked with military escorts in an open-air market.
The troops have "made quite a bit of progress here (Ramadi)," McNerney said. "Of course, I'm sure (the military) cherry-picked the best places for us to see."
McNerney also had dinner with six soldiers from California and met with Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, an Iraqi Kurd.
The congressman described Salih as a polished politician who "said the right words. He knows we are concerned about (the Iraqi leaders') relationships with he different sects and the violence."
McNerney described the California soldiers as "being in good spirits ... but they want the conflict over and they were ready to come home."
The soldiers used their time with the congressman to lobby for funding of better equipment such as light-weight body armor. One soldier from San Diego told the congressman he weighed 130 pounds without armor and 230 pounds with it.
The soldiers also talked with McNerney about California's plethora of windmills. The congressman is a wind turbine expert who was a wind energy consultant before winning his seat in November. He and a Sonoma soldier talked a bit about wine back home.
The delegation flew late Sunday night to Ramstein Air Base, where it visited wounded troops including a man who suffered a bullet wound through his jaw and another who faced reconstruction of his leg.
McNerney said he plans to write a short essay about his Iraq trip.
, which his staff will post on his House Web site. He recently wrote a similar paper on his trip to Greenland as part of the House Science Committee.
Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Reach her at 925-945-4773 or firstname.lastname@example.org.