"Only a Congress that stands up as a co-equal branch of government will resolve the issues before us."
You probably will not hear about it on the network and cable news shows, but today the Progressive Caucus and Out of Iraq Caucus held an impressive hearing on Iraq that offered real solutions to the quandary of the Iraq quagmire. Witnesses put forward a common sense plan to get out of Iraq while reducing the violence, and starting positive diplomatic activities in the region.
This was the fourth Iraq hearing held by the groups but the first held in a room with windows! That is one improvement that comes with the end of Republican rule. The witnesses included former National Security Agency director, National Security Council adviser to two presidents and retired four star general William Odom; George McGovern a former Presidential candidate and senator, Professor, author and former diplomat William Polk and Representative Jack Murtha, the new chairman responsible for appropriations for the military.
The news of the hearing was Rep. Murtha's announcement about how he plans to use the appropriations process to bring some sense to Iraq policy. Murtha began saying a year ago he spoke out describing Iraq policy as "a failure wrapped in an illusion" and that has become more evident over the last year. His said the goal should be "stability in that area" and "we can't do that with our troops in Iraq."
He plans to use the appropriations process to achieve his goals. He mentioned the need to close Abu Gharib, and Guantanamo, as well as stop building permanent military bases. Regarding the surge he said "we are exhausting our troops" and therefore we need to put on restrictions. He said the supplemental will result in extensive hearings on the war and contractors which will result in restrictions on how Bush can spend the funds. "If Bush vetoes it with our restrictions he will have no money," he warned.
In talking with Rep. Dennis Kucinich after the meeting, who is the only peace candidate running in the Democratic primary, he expressed concern that Bush will ignore the restrictions and there will be no way to enforce them. Kucinch has put forward his own 12 point plan for withdrawal and urges that the U.S. use the $70 billion already appropriated for 2007 to bring the troops home and take other steps to reduce the violence.
Twenty members of Congress attended the hearing at one time or another and all those that spoke expressed frustration with President Bush for doing the opposite of what the voters sought in the November election. There was concern that Bush was not facing reality and, as Rep. Barbara Lee, who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, said "He went on a listening tour but did not hear."
There was also concern about President Bush escalating the war by getting into a military conflict with Iran and Syria. Rep. Waters noted "We failed to stop this president from going to war. We must stop him from expanding the war into Iran and Syria." A common refrain by the Members was the voters need to get more active and more organized and increase the pressure on Congress to do the right thing.
Senator McGovern and Professor William Polk, who co-authored Out of Iraq, put forward a plan to withdraw U.S. troops, and take sensible steps that reduce the risk of violence. They also pointed out that historically when an occupation ends, the violence subsides. McGovern described the U.S. as repeating the mistakes of Vietnam as if we learned nothing from history.
Professor Polk, who knows the Middle East as an academic, author and diplomat, commented on the Baker-Hamilton report saying it made four good points: (1) started a discussion about the need to get out, (2) the U.S. is stretched beyond our military capacity, (3) the U.S. is moving toward bankruptcy, and (4) other Middle East issues must be focused on.
Polk said that rather than building an Iraqi military, which could cause all sorts of problems in Iraq and the Region in the future, we should form a corps of engineers. This will help reduce the very high unemployment estimated at 50% or more. This combined with a stability force, and the end of the occupation, would have the best chance of reducing the violence in Iraq.
All four panelists made the point that one critical element the U.S. has minimized is the power of nationalism the desire to protect your country from an occupier.
Odom, who is well know writing articles on "cutting and running" and cogently arguing that everything we fear is made more likely by staying in Iraq, made the point that his many years of experience in counter intelligence teach him that you need a political solution one that cannot be achieved with a "colonial ventriloquist." Another lesson he sees from history is "if you can tax, you can rule." In Vietnam the south was dependent on U.S. dollars, while the north taxed the people. In Iraq the equivalent is "he who controls the oil resources can rule as that controls the economy."
Odom made three points on how to approach this. First, we can't prevent the turmoil and killing, we are the cause of it and the best thing to do is leave. Second, we are diplomatically and strategically paralyzed as other countries will not get involved as long as we are there. Once we leave other countries will want to join the U.S. in regional negotiations. Finally, cutting and running does not mean leaving the region but allows for a new strategy for the region that can bring stability. This war has the opposite effect and strengthens Iran and al Qaeda. "Iran and Syria are enjoying our pain. If we get out that changes."
Regarding Iran, several Members asked questions showing their concern that the U.S. was sliding into an expanded war. Odom said that if you put an attack on Iran to a referendum of the troops you'd have 90% opposition. He also pointed out that some neocons are advocating attacking Iran as part of an "Operation Come Back." He ominously warned that "terrorist incidents can be perpetrated by other than terrorists." In response to a question from Rep. Kucinich, McGovern described an attack on Iran without Congressional approval as an impeachable offense, but said he would rather focus on ending the war in Iraq.
Kucinch argued that "only a Congress that stands up as a co-equal branch of government will resolve the issues before us."