Rothman first voted to authorize war in Iraq in 2002, but has since announced that his vote was a mistake.
Since then, Rothman has been a vocal critic of President Bush's Iraqi war policy and has voted against spending more money to fund the war efforts.
Two weeks ago, Rothman spoke out in support of a Congressional resolution that declares support for the troops, but opposes President Bush's plan to escalate the war with an additional 21,000 American troops.
Last week, for the first time, Rothman went to the scene to witness for himself what's going on there.
He returned home Tuesday and held a conference call with reporters to discuss what he saw overseas.
"I came back to New Jersey from Iraq with a heartfelt appreciation for our strong, well trained and disciplined fighting force," Rothman said. "The overall military power of the United States is awesome. I think everyone realizes that a lot of mistakes have been made. I think everyone realizes that the American people have lost patience with the way this war has been handled. There are people asking for the withdrawal of our troops with a sense of immediacy."
Added Rothman, "The military people I spoke with asked about the criticisms and concerns back home. They know that the war is viewed differently now. But they feel that the criticisms are very helpful and not hurting the morale of the troops. They all realize that they have a job to do. The troops I spoke with are very committed to doing their jobs. They are brave and patriotic."
While he was in Iraq, Rothman met with North Bergen native Celia Nunez, a private first class in the United States Army.
"She's a delightful, young woman who has a lot going for her," Rothman said. "Our troops were very professional in nature. They all signed up for their military duty and are now subjected to be on a dangerous mission. They're doing the best job that they can. But there is some frustration, especially with repeated redeployment. Some have done two tours. That's enough. But others are now doing three, four and five tours."
He added, "They're being asked to make sacrifices that most Americans would not make."
Unity is running out
Rothman said that he perceived that time for "seeking unity in Iraq is running out."
"That's the growing understanding in Iraq," Rothman said. "Time is running out for the three sides to all come together with the goals of security and prosperity in mind. The Sunnis agree that they will not regain the majority and the Shiite population will not be able to avenge what happened, and the Kurds have come to realize that any effort to create an independent Kurdish state will not take place. Al-Qaeda don't discriminate. They kill everyone."
Shiites and Sunnis are both sects of the religion of Islam who follow the teachings of the prophet Mohammed. Sunnis and Shiites disagree as to who were the legitimate successors of Mohammed. During the reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the former president repressed Shiite and Kurdish uprisings. Today, the various religious and ethnic groups are still fighting.
Rothman said that the end of U.S. involvement in the country is drawing near, because the resolution with the United Nations' Security Council authorizing the U.S. troops to be in Iraq expires in December of this year.
"Iraq will have to request the U.N. for additional U.S. participation or the participation of other countries at that time," Rothman said. "It may well present an opportunity for a reconfiguring of the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. The window of opportunity will be closing by December."
Rothman said that nothing will change his stance now about the war.
"I always believed that the use of military power should be limited to when a country's vital security can not be achieved without it," Rothman said. "If I knew at the time of the original vote what I know now, I would have never voted for it. There was no need to invade Iraq. There was no imminent danger to the United States. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no need to go into this country. None."
Help needed for vets
Rothman said that after visiting the wounded soldiers that there should be more of a focus on getting the veterans more mental health help.
"There is an enormous need for mental health counseling for those returning home that is shamefully not provided for them," Rothman said. "One soldier told me that he had to fill out six request forms to receive mental help and the military has still not provided him with care. That's just plain wrong. We're talking about expenses in this war that are reaching $1 trillion and that's an expense that is not talked about."
Rothman said that he made the trip with the idea of bringing more attention on the war back home to New Jersey.
"My constituents should make their voices heard, whether we should stay there or come home," Rothman said. "I tell my constituents to share their voices with us. They shouldn't be shut. I told the troops over there that Americans express their gratitude for their service, that the American people are supportive of the troops. Even if they're against the war, they're for the troops."
Added Rothman, "I think this trip either confirmed or reaffirmed my believe that this war is primarily now a matter of the political and social will of the Iraqi people to determine whether they want to live in peace or not, that we will not be able to help them unless they come to an agreement on a unified Iraq."
Rothman added, "I am going to make sure that our troops have the ammunition and the equipment to keep them safe."
Rothman has a message for the president.
"I will continue to encourage President Bush to withdraw all of our troops out of Iraq within the next six months," Rothman said. "I'm hopeful that the Iraqi people build the society that will help their people survive and not become an Iranian satellite. I just know that the American people are losing patience with the position our government is taking in Iraq and it might be best for the U.S. troops to come home."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org