Monday, July 31, 2006

Democrats Stand United On Iraq

Democrats presented a united front on the war in Iraq in a letter adressed to President Bush, the text of which is below.

While the world has been focused on the crisis in the Middle East, Iraq has exploded in violence. Some 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June, and sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim American and Iraqi lives at an alarming rate. In the face of this onslaught, one can only conclude that the Baghdad security plan you announced five weeks ago is in great jeopardy.

Despite the latest evidence that your Administration lacks a coherent strategy to stabilize Iraq and achieve victory, there has been virtually no diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences, no regional effort to establish a broader security framework, and no attempt to revive a struggling reconstruction effort. Instead, we learned of your plans to redeploy an additional 5,000 U.S. troops into an urban war zone in Baghdad. Far from implementing a comprehensive "Strategy for Victory" as you promised months ago, your Administration=' strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your Administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and over 18,000 others have been wounded. The Iraq war has also strained our military and constrained our ability to deal with other challenges. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as virtually no active Army non-deployed combat brigade is prepared to perform its wartime missions. American taxpayers have already contributed over $300 billion and each week we stay in Iraq adds nearly $3 billion more to our record budget deficit.

In the interests of American national security, our troops, and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained.

Rather, we continue to believe that it is time for Iraqis to step forward and take the lead for securing and governing their own country. This is the principle enshrined in the "United States Policy in Iraq Act" enacted last year. This law declares 2006 to be a year of "significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq." Regrettably, your policy seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

This legislation made clear that Iraqi political leaders must be informed that American patience, blood and treasure are not unlimited. We were disappointed that you did not convey this message to Prime Minister Maliki during his recent visit. Reducing the U.S. footprint in Iraq will not only give the Iraqis a greater incentive to take the lead for the security of their own nation, but will also allow U.S. forces to be able to respond to contingencies affecting the security of the United States elsewhere in the world.

We believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006. U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission focused on counterterrorism, training and logistical support of Iraqi security forces, and force protection of U.S. personnel.

Additionally, every effort should be made to urge the Iraqis to take the steps necessary to achieve a broad-based and sustainable political settlement, including amending the constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources. It is also essential to disarm the militias and ensure forces loyal to the national government. Finally, an international conference should be convened to persuade other governments to be more involved, and to secure the resources necessary to finance Iraq's reconstruction and rebuild its economy.

Mr. President, simply staying the course in Iraq is not working. We need to take a new direction. We believe these recommendations comprise an effective alternative to the current open-ended commitment which is not producing the progress in Iraq we would all like to see. Thank you for your careful consideration of these suggestions.

The letter was signed by all the Democratic leadership including Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, and Steny Hoyer as well as all the ranking members on both the House and Senate Armed Services, Intelligence, Defense Appropriations, and Foreign Relations committees. Now that includes John Murtha, Joe Biden and Jane Harman, people who've held different stances and espoused different strategies for Iraq. While this letter doesn't endorse a specific date for withdrawal - a point of controversy among Democrats - it is clear that Democrats now stand behind beginning the pullot of troops by the end of the year, and agree on the kind of conditions that need to be met for complete transition to the Iraqis and the end of our occupation.

This is a significant step in the right direction for Democrats who have often been split on the issue when they needed to be offering an alternative to the Republicans. Now they are, and they should be hitting that message home from here until election day.

UPDATE: You can symbolically add your signature to the letter here.


Nat-Wu said...

It's good, but we should remember that in all likelihood, a withdrawal means civil war. It may be necessary for us to leave because we can't bear the weight of this, and unlike Xanthippas I don't think we can afford to waste our military might any longer in a useless war, but that doesn't mean we can rejoice, even when the last soldier comes home. We're looking at tragedy in the making, even if there's nothing else we can do. I wonder, will President Bush have the fortitude to humble himself before the American people and say he's sorry?

Xanthippas said...

I'm coming around to the belief that there's nothing else that we can do, and I do agree with Nathan that we are wasting what military power we have if we stay in a conflict we can no longer win, even if morally I feel we shouldn't be allowed to escape when the Iraqis themselves cannot.

And though I know it's necessary, I can't help but pick at the over-optimistic language of this letter. The idea that threatening withdrawal will make the Iraq government take their own security seriously, is now outdated. That might have been applicable before the sectarian violence grew so bad, but in truth the only "standing up" the Iraqi forces are going to do if we leave is making the Shiite militias virtual arms of the government even more so than they are now. Many people disagree with Stephen Biddle's plan on what to do, but there's no denying that we're beyond insurgency into full-on sectarian civil war, and the old dynamic of encouraging the central government to strengthen security no longer applies. There's an almost throw-away line about disarming the militias, but the guys we want to disarm them are the guys who want them there; the only credible force that could disarm the militias is us.

And an international conferance...on what planet? We'll see no such thing while Bush is in power, which is not the Democrats fault.

Anyway, I know it's more a statement of direction than a statement of what Dems would do if they were in power, and I understand that since it's politics things must be said with an eye towards domestic consumption. But like Nathan said, leaving Iraq will mean disaster for the Iraqis, and I only agree with doing it because there just doesn't seem to be anything else we can do. And frankly, I think we should be blunt with the American people about that.