Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Democrat Disagrees with Joe Lieberman

(Republicans who derided Senator Joseph Lieberman in 2000 are now singing his praises)

Recently Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has been pilloried by Democrats upset by his support for the war in Iraq. President Bush and his supporters, who had no problem deriding Senator “Sore Loserman” in the 2000 election, are now holding the senator up as a paragon of wisdom and moral strength. On December 7, 2005, Senator Lieberman wrote:

“It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."

Respectfully, I dissent. I agree with the words of another public servant, coincidentally also named Joe Lieberman, also a senator from Connecticut, who said on July 28, 2003:

“In our democracy, a president does not rule, he governs. He remains always answerable to us, the people. And right now, the president’s conduct of our foreign policy is giving the country too many reasons to question his leadership. It’s not just about 16 words in a speech, it is about distorting intelligence and diminishing credibility.”

I don’t have the credentials of Senator Lieberman; nor do I have a national stage as do prominent Democrats like senators Lieberman, Hilary Clinton, and John Kerry, all of whom voted for this war. But I do have three things that they don’t have: a personal stake in the issue; a track record for being right on Iraq; and a workable exit strategy that will extract American troops without leaving Iraq in anarchy, violent civil war, or in the grips of a theocratic dictatorship.

(LEFT: My son on the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad in 2003)

A Personal Stake in Iraq

Unlike any member of Congress, I saw my child ordered to war in Iraq in 2003. His Marine Corps reserve unit was fortunate enough to return with all its members, although one, Colonel Bob Zangas, was killed early in 2004 when he returned to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority to help prepare a new constitution for Iraq. Nothing focuses the mind like having a family member engaged in war, and like other parents and family members, to me the issue of the war in Iraq is not a political game to see which party can use it to best advantage. I am disgusted by Democrats and Republicans alike who are more concerned with their careers or with their party’s position of power than by the loss of lives, limbs, and morale of our troops in Iraq or by the rapidly declining moral authority and fiscal health of our nation.

Publicly available information and Common Sense told us that Iraq was not an imminent threat

As for being right on Iraq, on September 18, 2002, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published my opinion that although removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a worthwhile goal, I disagreed that “a unilateral invasion by American soldiers [was] the only way to accomplish this.” I pointed out that we didn’t “need any pretexts, such as alleged links to international terrorism, to have Hussein removed from power. He has already committed enough crimes against humanity over the past 20 years.” In my view, we had the intellects in this country capable of figuring out a way to remove Hussein “in a manner that avoids the deaths of American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians.”

I also knew that the alleged “imminent threat” from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was untrue, and I assumed that every Democrat and Republican in Congress who voted October 11, 2002, to authorize the President to use force was aware that of all the nations in the world which might want to do us harm, Iraq was the least capable of carrying out those intentions. As Colin Powell had stated publicly and testified in 2001:

"He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."
Secretary of State Colin Powell during a visit to Cairo, Egypt, February 24, 2001

"The sanctions, as they are called, have succeeded over the last 10 years.... The Iraqi regime militarily remains fairly weak. ... It has been contained." Colin Powell testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, May 15, 2001.

As for the efforts of President Bush and Vice President Cheney to conflate Iraq and the Al Qaida attacks on September 11, 2001, every member of Congress who voted for war knew that none of the 19 hijackers was an Iraqi. The recent revelation that President Bush was informed within days after 9-11 that Saddam Hussein had no ties to Al Qaida should not be news. Anyone with an ounce of common sense and a smattering of knowledge about Al Qaida and Saddam’s Iraq would have realized that secular Iraq- which, among other things, allowed the sale of alcohol and placed uncovered women in positions of authority- was anathema to Osama Bin Laden and his insane version of Islam.

(Under American occupation, the insurgency has stepped up violence with the tacit approval of local Iraqis)

Bush’s Incompetence: Worthy Ends overshadowed by Disastrous Means

Unfortunately, it took over three years, over 2,000 American deaths, and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilian deaths, for some members of Congress and most of the American people to figure out that there is a huge difference between having worthwhile goals- such as removing Saddam and establishing democracy in the Middle East- and using appropriate and effective means to achieve them.

To use a simple analogy, if I had an annoying rat in the attic of my house and President Bush was an exterminator, he would break down my door in the middle of the night, accidentally shoot my family members, blow up the house, leave it in rubble, and declare victory because he caught the original rat, even though a hundred other rats had taken the opportunity to invade and ensconce themselves in the remains of my home. Like the Iraqis, even though I might agree that removing the original rat was a worthwhile goal, I would be hard put to imagine a more incompetent, destructive method in doing so. And I sure as hell would want him out of my house while I tried to deal with the mess he created.

But the invasion occurred anyway, and our next question- the one which caused the first President Bush to refuse to take the road to Baghdad after ousting Saddam from Kuwait- was “what next?” On this issue, I was also right, as I wrote in an April 19, 2003, e-mail to one of the family members of a Marine in my son’s unit:

“Why the UN should take over is simple- whether or not they do a better job, the perception among the people in the region will be hugely different regarding a UN sponsored trusteeship of the country. It simply is in our national interest to have a respected international organization take over the rebuilding of Iraq. The sooner American and British soldiers are out of there, the less likely that terrorists or suicide bombers will attack our loved ones there or here. And a quick exit will defeat the absurd arguments that we are a colonialist country seeking to exploit Iraq's oil.”

When I sent that e-mail Baghdad had just fallen and President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier Lincoln was only two weeks away. Yet I raised the specter of “terrorists or suicide bombers” because I foresaw what has occurred since: the people of Iraq, most of whom initially welcomed us as liberators from the tyranny of Saddam, have come to despise us as arrogant occupiers who are not bound by the rule of law. The insurgency has been inflamed by our actions in resurrecting the evils of torture and Abu Ghraib prison, and the local populace sees no reason for our troops to stay so long as we are unable to restore the infrastructure, reduce devastating unemployment, or prevent mass murders and kidnapings. They realize we are only going to leave when the American people are so disgusted by the stream of coffins coming back and the flow of dollars going out that Congress is motivated to cut our losses.

An Exit Strategy to phase out American Troops without Leaving Chaos or Civil War

President Bush claims that a specific deadline with a detailed timetable for withdrawal will send a dangerous message to “the terrorists” and other vague enemies that we can be driven out by their tactics. That’s a curious concern for an Administration which has made no secret of its complete disdain for foreign opinion, overwhelmingly against us on this issue, and which maintains that this White House “creates its own reality.” In fact, simple logic tells us that if President Bush really intended to remove American troops once the insurgency was quieted and democracy installed, the smartest tactic for the “terrorists” would be to lay low, pretend to go along with the program, give our troops a chance to leave, then come out of hiding and attempt a coup or instigate a civil war.

Since President Bush has continually maintained that we were going to leave anyway (a statement belied by the billions of dollars we have spent fortifying the Green Zone, constructing our new armed fortress of an embassy, and building permanent military bases), one can hardly see how a detailed exit plan harms our interests. Meanwhile, staying in the country without a firm exit date has provoked more suicide bombings and an increasing number of American casualties. Every benchmark- the June 2004 handover of “sovereignty,” the January 2005 elections, the October 2005, vote on the Constitution- which was supposed to create an environment for success in Iraq, has instead been followed by increased violence and further escalation towards a civil war.

Last year when I ran for public office in Georgia, I proposed a phased six month pullout of American combat troops from central Iraq- the Sunni triangle- leaving enough troops in the north to protect the Kurds from invasion and in the south to protect the oil fields. I suggested bringing in Arabic speaking Muslim peacekeepers, preferably from our allies Jordan and Egypt, to replace American troops in central Iraq, the area where our religion and our lack of understanding of language, culture, and ethnicity, has cost us lives and the goodwill necessary to do an effective job of peacekeeping. During that six months we can train Iraqis who want to fight for their country’s freedom (we can even bring them and their families here to America to do so).

I also proposed internationalizing the oil fields, dedicating half of their revenues to rebuilding Iraq- none of which may be used for procuring arms. The other half should go to repay America’s bill for the war and compensate the victims of Saddam Hussein. Whatever else Iraq’s constitution provides, we should impose requirements on the country that it never have a standing army or air force, that it have a government free of religious influence, and that every person in the country be guaranteed the same rights to free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and democracy that we enjoy here.

I wish the people of Iraq well. My son is proud of the work he did there as a Marine, and in no way should the Democrats or Republicans follow a “cut and run” strategy or a “declare victory and leave” plan that leaves the country in chaos, a Somalia in the heart of the Middle East. However, President Bush does neither Iraq nor America any favors by keeping a large force of American troops there indefinitely with no rational exit strategy and no clue as to what is fueling popular support for the insurgency- namely, the constant irritant of American, English speaking, (mostly) Christian troops.

As I wrote last year:

“Many if not most of the people of Iraq do not want to have freedom handed to them by an American army of occupation. If the Iraqi people are to value and treasure freedom the way we do, then they are going to have to earn it.”


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