Sunday, August 07, 2005


What can Americans do to stop the killing in Iraq and bring American troops home safe?

(This column appeared in the 8/11/05 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

“I see this guy in the most prestigious office in the world, and this guy says ‘bring it on.’ A guy who ain’t never been shot at, never seen anyone suffering, saying ‘bring it on?’ He gets to act like a cowboy in a western movie…it’s sickening to me.”
Marine Corporal A. Henderson, who was part of the invasion force in Iraq from March through May of 2003.

"The president told us Iraq was a threat to our freedom. But how much of a threat could it be if we could take the capital in three weeks? I knew I had to come down from New York and stand with other veterans in the cold. We had to say, 'No, this doesn't make any sense.'"
Marine Alex Ryabov, another veteran of the Iraq invasion force, quoted when he attended Bush’s 2nd term inauguration ceremony.

The continuing tragedy of the American occupation of Iraq was brought home to Georgia in recent weeks as eleven members of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade were killed. When photos of the dead, their grieving loved ones, and their fellow Guardsmen face us daily from our newspapers around the State, it brings the war home to us as bare numbers can’t. But the numbers exist, and behind every statistic had been a real, live, breathing, caring human being, leaving behind family members and friends. Over 1,827 have been killed- 1,690 since May 1, 2003, when President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier Lincoln with a “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background (the huge ship was turned around so that the San Diego harbor wouldn’t be seen in the background of the photo op); 1,360 since Saddam Hussein was captured December 13, 2003; 961 since the “sovereignty handover” occurred in June of 2004; and 395 since the January 31, 2005, election in Iraq. An additional 13,559 have been wounded, not counting approximately 1,000 evacuated for mental problems.

Average Americans have finally figured out that the stated reasons for going to war were bogus. In fact, the Washington Post reported on July 6, 2005, that “[m]ore than four in 10 Americans, (42%) according to a recent Zogby poll, say that if President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.” More tellingly, 25% of Republicans polled favored impeachment.

Americans have also figured out that keeping our military in Iraq has fueled the local insurgency, recruited more foreign suicide bombers to Al Qaida, and made Americans and the British less safe in our own countries. Even the top members of the military in Iraq have recognized the reality denied by the President and his advisors. Tom Lasseter, of the Knight Ridder Newspapers, reported on June 12, 2005:

“"I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said [in June of 2005], in a comment that echoes what other senior officers say. "It's going to be settled in the political process."

Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, expressed similar sentiments, calling the military's efforts "the Pillsbury Doughboy idea" - pressing the insurgency in one area only causes it to rise elsewhere.

"Like in Baghdad," Casey said during an interview with two newspaper reporters, including one from Knight Ridder, last week. "We push in Baghdad - they're down to about less than a car bomb a day in Baghdad over the last week - but in north-center (Iraq) ... they've gone up," he said. "The political process will be the decisive element."

The recognition that a military solution is not in the offing has led U.S. and Iraqi officials to signal they are willing to negotiate with insurgent groups, or their intermediaries.

Lt. Col. Frederick P. Wellman, who works with the task force overseeing the training of Iraqi security troops, said the insurgency doesn't seem to be running out of new recruits, a dynamic fueled by tribal members seeking revenge for relatives killed in fighting.

"We can't kill them all," Wellman said. "When I kill one I create three.”“

How do we get of Iraq? The problem ordinary Americans have at the moment is that we are relatively powerless. Here’s three ways to get our troops out of harm’s way, followed by the likelihood of this occurring on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 the highest:

(1) The President could remove American soldiers with the stroke of a pen, ordering the Secretary of Defense to immediately commence a withdrawal of American forces (not a “drawdown,” which is what is envisioned by the Bush Administration which desires a permanent American military presence on the permanent bases being built in Iraq by Halliburton).

Likelihood of this happening: 1. President Bush has not admitted a single mistake in over four years in office, and he won’t start now.

(2) Congress could come to its senses and pass a law cutting off all appropriations for the occupation and directing the President, under the War Powers clause of the Constitution, to immediately cease all combat operations in Iraq.

Likelihood: 2. Congress is firmly in Republican hands, and so far only a few have had the courage and the patriotism to be honest in public, notably, Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who said the White House was "completely disconnected from reality. It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along." It’s more likely that as 2006 Congressional elections ramp up, Republican Senators or Congressmen in close contests will become progressively nervous as other Paul Hackett type candidates surface, and they will demand of party leaders that significant drawdowns begin and combat patrols be curtailed to lower the death count. (Paul Hackett was the Marine Corps Reserve Major recently back from combat in Iraq who, running on an anti-Bush, anti-war platform, narrowly lost the August 2, 2005, special election in Southern Ohio for a Congressional seat that had been solidly in Republican hands for three decades.)

(3) Potential military recruits can stay away from the Army and Marines in sufficient numbers that the top generals in the Pentagon will have to inform the President and Congress that a major military presence with constant deaths in Iraq has so damaged the national defense that ending the occupation is essential to the continuation of an all-volunteer military.

Likelihood: 7. The one factor that We the People control is that we are the military- ordinary citizens like Spc. Jacques E. Brunson, 30, of Americus, Staff Sgt. Carl R. Fuller, 44, of Covington, Sgt. James O. Kinlow, 35, of Thomson, and Sgt. John F. Thomas, 33, of Valdosta. They all served in the Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade, based in Albany, Georgia, and they died on July 24, in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their HMMWV while they were on patrol. Unlike Vietnam, when the draft lottery became a macabre form of Russian roulette (symbolized in the movie, The Deerhunter) which spared many and killed thousands, the current military depends on the ability to recruit volunteers. And if the economy is truly improving and unemployment dropping, as President Bush claimed in his August 6th radio address, that further diminishes the ability to recruit for those branches of the military- the Army and Marines- which have suffered the most from the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

We won’t leave Iraq with a grand ceremony and a bon voyage of cheering, grateful Iraqis throwing flowers and asking us to be sure to come back and visit sometime. We won’t leave a nascent democracy in Iraq which has a constitution that will protect the rights of women or religious minorities. We won’t leave an Iraq as secular as it was during the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who only publicly embraced Islam after his defeat in the Gulf War as a means of regaining his stature among other Arab nations. And we won’t leave behind a reduced capacity of Islamic terrorists to wage war on the west. But we will leave.

We will leave because, as an American President once said: “[o]ther nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home.” George W. Bush, speaking under a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the U.S.S. Lincoln, May 1, 2003.


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