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Bill Richardson on Iraq: Listening To Our Soldiers Call To End The War Now

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Message Stephen Cassidy
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Remember playing with silly putty as a child? You would place a ball in your hand, squeeze on one end and it would shoot out the other end.

President Bush's surge in Iraq should be called the silly putty strategy. That is what has occurred. We squeeze the insurgents in one area but they are not defeated. Instead, they redeploy and attack in another area where U.S. forces are spread thin.

Seeking to safeguard Baghdad 's population from sectarian conflict should never have been confused with creating a stable and secure Iraq. A county the size of California, Baghdad is Iraq's largest city with 7 million residents. Yet, Iraq has 15 other major cities, hundreds of smaller cities and towns and thousands of villages with another 20 million people.

We have never allocated - nor was there ever the plan to allocate - sufficient forces to quell massive internal unrest in Iraq, if that was even possible. Rumsfeld himself at one time recognized the futility of a "clear, hold and build" strategy, of which the surge was a modified version of. Rumsfeld stated at a press conference on November 29, 2005:

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Q General Pace, there have been some critics who have said that you don't have enough troops to do this clear, hold and build strategy, especially along the border between Iraq and Syria. Do you --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Could I just -- stop right there. Please, let me just -- stop right there. Anyone who takes those three words and thinks it means the United States should clear and the United States should hold and the United States should build doesn't understand the situation. It is the Iraqis' country. They've got 28 million people there. They are clearing, they are holding, they are building. They're going to be the ones doing the reconstruction in that country --

Q Mr. Secretary, Senator --

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SEC. RUMSFELD: -- and we do not have -- with 160,000 troops there -- the idea that we could do that is so far from reality. Nor was there any intention that we should do that.

The fatal flaw in Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration's plan for invading Iraq was assuming the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms, a new, stable government could be formed and we could withdraw the bulk of our forces in short order.

As noted by Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor in their book Cobra II, our military never considered that guerrilla war was a serious possibility in response to our invasion. One wonders if any of the political and military leaders that took America to war had studied the history of the Middle East or international relations in the post-colonial world.

The Bush Administration is certainly not listening to the soldiers in Iraq directly engaged in combat. In August, the New York Times published an essay by seven troops with the 82nd Airborne work entitled "The War as We Saw It,."

The essay was called one of the "most compelling analysis of the Iraq war." Two authors, Sgt. Omar Mora and Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, died a month later in a vehicle accident in Iraq.

The soldiers wrote:

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal.
Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. . .
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the "battle space" remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers' expense.
They added:
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. "Lucky" Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, "We need security, not free food."

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In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal.
On October 15, 2007, the Washington Post published an essay by 12 former Army captains entitled "The Real Iraq We Knew" which paralleled the essay written in August by the soldiers in the 82nd Airborne. The captains started by noting,
Today marks five years since the authorization of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion. Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start. And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles.
The officers continued:
Even with "the surge," we simply do not have enough soldiers and marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions. Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations , in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. . .

Iraqi security forces would not be able to salvage the situation. Even if all the Iraqi military and police were properly trained, equipped and truly committed, their 346,000 personnel would be too few. As it is, Iraqi soldiers quit at will. The police are effectively controlled by militias. And, again, corruption is debilitating. U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving generals and support the very elements that will battle each other after we're gone.
They concluded with a call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq:
There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.
Where do we go from here? What will Congress do in the next 15 months of Bush's presidency? There appears to be a resignation to allow Bush to continue to wage the war.

The war is a disaster. In the words of a soldier serving in Iraq, "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

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Stephen is a resident of California and Democrat.
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