March 22, 2006 © The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved.

Congress: Move Out on Iraq

By Dan Smith
Global Beat Syndicate
—With the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq upon us, the expected tide of articles and analyses has come, looking at "progress"—how much, if any; and what Iraqis and coalition forces still need to do before we can achieve drawdown and troop withdrawals.

Most proposed strategies tend to feature the integration of political and economic progress and progress on physical security for Iraqi citizens. Without stability and security, the economic infrastructure will remain dependent on foreign donors and lending institutions. Iraq, which once exported agricultural products as well as petroleum, now imports and subsidizes both. And in the three months since the election of the Iraqi parliament, Iraqi politicians remain divided on just about everything. And while large swatches of the country appear peaceful, this "peace" owes as much to the sectarian-associated militias that still exist in defiance of U.S. and Iraqi authorities as it does to these two authorities.

The March 19 Sunday talk shows, tied to the invasion three years ago on that day, displayed the range of views dividing domestic U.S. politics and reflected rising public distrust in the entire war effort.

For example, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, said the coalition forces were making very, very good progress, and he rejected the notion that and the recent violence was a sign of impending civil war.

In contrast, Representative John Murtha (D-Penn), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee and until recently supported the war, gave a decidedly contrary view, saying in effect that we've made no progress at all, and are now caught in a civil war.

General Pace, unless he resigns to protest administration policy, will support (properly) the optimistic White House line when appearing in public, unclassified settings. And he might well believe (or want to believe, so that Iraqis can be given more of the battle) that progress is being made, while leaving open the question of how sustainable any "progress" may be over the long haul.

For his part, Congressman Murtha repeated a point he made two weeks earlier on another Sunday talk show, where he said, "Iraqis have to settle this themselves. This is not a 'we' thing. This is a 'them' thing." On March 5 also, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind), picked up the same theme, saying, "The question really is whether Iraqis want to be Iraqis, as opposed to Sunnis and Shi'ites and Kurds. That hasn't been decided."

Such insights from two experienced legislators from both congressional chambers and both political parties ought to galvanize Congress to do what members failed to do in 2003: hold an extended debate—this time on strategies that could reverse the ill-considered policy that has made the United States the hostage to whatever Iraqis do, and do not do. The perfect legislative setting for this debate could come as both houses examine the administration's 2006 Supplemental Appropriations request for warfighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. At best, floor debates just might produce new ideas about ways to extract U.S. forces from Iraq, thereby liberating U.S. foreign policy. Or, at least, an open debate on the mechanics of redeployment would put the Iraqis and the world on notice that all foreign forces, including U.S. troops, will leave Iraq.

In our system, generals can talk about when armies will leave, but generals do not make policy. The Bush administration has lost so much credibility at home and abroad by its ineptness and attempts to spin events that its pronouncements carry minimal impact. By default, that leaves Congress as the locus for full and frank discussion of how best to leave Iraq—and to depart so that Iraqis are able to provide for the security and well-being of their people.

A Congress with the courage to hold an unfettered debate on the next steps for reclaiming America's independence from "entangling alliances" will go far in gaining us political redemption, at home and abroad.

As they say in the military, it is time for members to "Move out!"

Dan Smith is senior analyst on military affairs at the Friends (Quakers) Committee on National Legislation, Washington, D.C., and a retired U.S. Army colonel.

© 2006 The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of The Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out

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