Three years ago, I argued against the Bush Administration's proposal to attack Iraq for the very reasons we have seen emerge from this troubled region. We were prepared to defeat Saddam Hussein's military but the administration and congressional leaders were never prepared to win the peace.
Not only was the premise for the war flawed, but the administration has made the wrong military, political, and diplomatic choices at every turn. The members of our armed services make up the finest fighting force in the world and they have done their duty with great distinction and honor, yet the administration has failed them as well.
I take no satisfaction in my worst fears having been proven correct. The administration's spectacular failures in executing this war have set back our efforts against terrorism and left America with no good options in Iraq. But, as our military is being not just frayed but damaged and Iraq faces increasingly difficult prospects for democracy and stability, staying the course is simply not an option.
Until now, I have resisted advocating for an accelerated pullout because of my fear of the downward spiral that could occur in the aftermath. Yet this is a question that must be faced sooner rather than later, and it's hard to imagine a policy that would be more destabilizing than the administration's current mismanagement of the war effort and continued estrangement from reality.
There is no longer any basis for the hope that a sustained American military occupation will stabilize Iraq. Instead, we continue to lose credibility and influence in the region and with our allies, as well as strengthen the hands of those extremists who wish to do us harm. Even many of those who initially supported military action have come to admit that the administration's strategy has failed and that a large United States military presence inhibits the development of a stable and democratic Iraq. Iraqis in key positions are arguing for at least some withdrawal of U.S. forces. Most telling is a recent poll of Iraqis themselves, commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense, which showed that 82% of Iraqis were "strongly opposed" to the presence of foreign troops and less than 1% believe the their presence is helping to improve security.
Iraq's future depends on creating a secure space for politics and the rule of law to replace violence. This is a process at which only Iraqis themselves can succeed, with America and the international community playing a supporting role. Elections scheduled for December provide the perfect opportunity to begin the withdrawal of American troops, a refocused U.S. effort, and transfer of responsibility to Iraqis.
American forces should be redeployed out of Iraq in two phases. First, let's bring the 46,000 National Guard and Reserve forces home immediately. These elements in our total force have been most overburdened by ever-increasing deployments and are most needed here in the United States.
Continued U. S. aid and military support must be tied to performance objectives for the Iraqi government and military. On that basis, the rest of the American forces should be withdrawn over the next one to two years, based on a detailed plan for the sector by sector transfer of security responsibility. The majority of these troops should be brought home. Others should be redeployed to Afghanistan to create a larger security footprint and help prevent the reemergence of the Taliban. A small rapid-reaction force should be left in Kuwait that can protect against any destabilizing coups.
The administration must reengage diplomatically by seeking a new United Nations resolution that supports international efforts to stabilize Iraq and by beginning a regional security dialogue with Iraq's neighbors. We should also work with the Arab League to facilitate a renewed effort towards a political solution within Iraq by engaging with nationalist faction leaders who might be a force for stability in that country if U.S. troops were withdrawn.
We must also change the nature of our economic assistance. By shifting reconstruction aid to Iraq away from large projects undertaken by foreign contactors towards small, locally oriented projects run by Iraqis, we create jobs, give Iraqis a greater investment in their success, and minimize corruption and price-gouging.
President Bush's model of "go it alone, do it cheap, and put it on a credit card" has not only led to grave instability in Iraq, it is crippling our ability to deal with the more serious strategic threats, from Iran and North Korea to a terrorist movement that we have inadvertently strengthened. We must now do our best to salvage what we still can of American credibility, military readiness, democratic ideals, and Iraqi stability through a change in strategy and the beginning of a responsible phase-down of American troops and the orderly transfer of authority to Iraqis.