Sen. Ted Kennedy To JHU SAIS Audience: Bush's Iraq Policies "a Catastrophic Failure"
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is the text of an address delivered by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on January 27, 2005 at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Forty years ago, America was in another war in a distant land. At that time, in 1965, we had in Vietnam the same number of troops and the same number of casualties as in Iraq today.
We thought in those early days in Vietnam that we were winning. We thought the skill and courage of our troops was enough. We thought that victory on the battlefield would lead to victory in the war, and peace and democracy for the people of Vietnam.
We lost our national purpose in Vietnam. We abandoned the truth. We failed our ideals. The words of our leaders could no longer be trusted.
In the name of a misguided cause, we continued the war too long. We failed to comprehend the events around us. We did not understand that our very presence was creating new enemies and defeating the very goals we set out to achieve. We cannot allow that history to repeat itself in Iraq.
We must learn from our mistakes. We must recognize what a large and growing number of Iraqis now believe. The war in Iraq has become a war against the American occupation.
We have reached the point that a prolonged American military presence in Iraq is no longer productive for either Iraq or the United States. The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
We need a serious course correction, and we need it now. We must make it for the American soldiers who are paying with their lives. We must make it for the American people who cannot afford to spend our resources and national prestige protracting the war in the wrong way. We must make it for the sake of the Iraqi people who yearn for a country that is not a permanent battlefield and for a future free from permanent occupation.
The elections in Iraq this weekend provide an opportunity for a fresh and honest approach. We need a new plan that sets fair and realistic goals for self-government in Iraq, and works with the Iraqi government on a specific timetable for the honorable homecoming of our forces.
The first step is to confront our own mistakes. Americans are rightly concerned about why our 157,000 soldiers are there--when they will come home--and how our policy could have gone so wrong.
No matter how many times the Administration denies it, there is no question they misled the nation and led us into a quagmire in Iraq. President Bush rushed to war on the basis of trumped up intelligence and a reckless argument that Iraq was a critical arena in the global war on terror, that somehow it was more important to start a war with Iraq than to finish the war in Afghanistan and capture Osama bin Laden, and that somehow the danger was so urgent that the UN weapons inspectors could not be allowed time to complete their search for weapons of mass destruction.
As in Vietnam, truth was the first casualty of this war. Nearly 1400 Americans have died. More than 10,000 have been wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children have been killed. The weapons of mass destruction weren’t there, but today 157,000 Americans are.
As a result of our actions in Iraq, our respect and credibility around the world have reached all-time lows. The President bungled the pre-war diplomacy on Iraq and wounded our alliances. The label “coalition of the willing” cannot conceal the fact that American soldiers make up 80% of the troops on the ground in Iraq and more than 90% of the casualties.
The Administration also failed to prepare for the aftermath of “victory”--and so the post-war period became a new war, with more casualties, astronomical costs, and relentless insurgent attacks.
The Administration failed to establish a basic level of law and order after Baghdad fell, and so massive looting occurred.
The Administration dissolved the Iraqi army and dismissed its troops, but left their weapons intact and their ammunition dumps unguarded, and they have become arsenals of the insurgency.
The Administration relied for advice on self-promoting Iraqi exiles who were out of touch with the Iraqi people and resented by them--and the result is an America regarded as occupier, not as liberator.
The President recklessly declared “Mission Accomplished” when in truth the mission had barely begun. He and his advisors predicted and even bragged that the war would be a cakewalk, but the expected welcoming garlands of roses became an endless bed of thorns.
The Administration told us the financial costs would be paid with Iraqi oil dollars, but it is being paid with billions of American tax dollars. Another $80 billion bill for the black hole that Iraq has become has just been handed to the American people.
The cost is also being paid in shame and stain on America’s good name as a beacon of human rights. Nothing is more at odds with our values as Americans than the torture of another human being. Do you think that any Americans tell their children with pride that America tortures prisoners? Yet, high officials in the Administration in their arrogance strayed so far from our heritage and our belief in fundamental human decency that they approved the use of torture—and they were wrong, deeply wrong, to do that.
The Administration’s willful disregard of the Geneva Conventions led to the torture and flagrant abuse of the prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and that degradation has diminished America in the eyes of the whole world. It has diminished our moral voice on the planet.
Never in our history has there been a more powerful, more painful example of the saying that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
The tide of history rises squarely against military occupation. We ignore this truth at our peril in Iraq.
The nations in the Middle East are independent, except for Iraq, which began the 20th century under Ottoman occupation and is now beginning the 21st century under American occupation.
Iraq could very well be another Algeria, where the French won the military battle for Algiers, but ultimately lost the political battle for Algeria.
Despite the clear lesson of history, the President stubbornly clings to the false hope that the turning point is just around the corner.
The ending of the rule of Saddam Hussein was supposed to lessen violence and bring an irresistible wave of democracy to the Middle East. It hasn’t. Saddam Hussein’s capture was supposed to quell the violence. It didn’t. The transfer of sovereignty was supposed to be the breakthrough. It wasn’t. The military operation in Fallujah was supposed to break the back of the insurgency. It didn’t.
The 1400 Americans killed in Iraq and the 10,000 American casualties are the equivalent of a full division of our Army--and we only have ten active divisions.
The tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed last year included nearly a thousand members of the new Iraqi security forces, and a hundred more have been lost this year. The recent killing of a senior Iraqi judge was the 170th assassination of an Iraqi official since June of 2003.
We all hope for the best from Sunday’s election. The Iraqis have a right to determine their own future. But Sunday’s election is not a cure for the violence and instability. Unless the Sunni and all the other communities in Iraq believe they have a stake in the outcome and a genuine role in drafting the new Iraqi constitution, the election could lead to greater alienation, greater escalation, and greater death--for us and for the Iraqis.
In fact, the Central Intelligence Agency’s top official in Baghdad warned recently that the security situation is deteriorating and is likely to worsen, with escalating violence and more sectarian clashes. How could any President have let this happen?
General Brent Scowcroft, who until recently served as Chairman of President Bush’s National Intelligence Advisory Board and who also served as the first President Bush’s National Security Adviser, recently warned of an “incipient civil war” in Iraq. He said, “the [Iraqi] elections are turning out to be less about a promising transformation, and it has great potential for deepening the conflict.”
President Bush’s Iraq policy is not, as he said during last fall’s campaign, a “catastrophic success.” It is a catastrophic failure. The men and women of our armed forces are serving honorably and with great courage under extreme conditions, but their indefinite presence is fanning the flames of conflict.
The American people are concerned. They recognize that the war with Iraq is not worth the cost in American lives, prestige, and credibility. They understand that this misbegotten war has made America more hated in the world, created new breeding grounds and support for terrorists, and made it harder to win the real war against terrorism--the war against Al Qaeda and radical jihadist terrorists.
Conservative voices are alarmed as well. As Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, said last November, we are “stuck in a guerrilla war with no end in sight.”
As former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser Larry Diamond recently said, “There is a fine line between Churchillian resolve and self-defeating obstinacy.” We must recognize that line and end the obstinate policy of the Administration.
A new Iraq policy must begin with acceptance of hard truths. Most of the violence in Iraq is not being perpetrated--as President Bush has claimed--by “a handful of folks that fear freedom” and “people who want to try to impose their will on people...just like Osama bin Laden.”
The war has made Iraq a magnet for terrorism that wasn’t there before. President Bush has opened an unnecessary new front in the war on terror, and we are losing ground because of it. The CIA’s own National Intelligence Council confirmed this assessment in its report two weeks ago.
The insurgency is not primarily driven by foreign terrorists. General Abizaid, head of our Central Command, said last September, “I think the number of foreign fighters in Iraq is probably below 1,000...”. According to the Department of Defense, less than two percent of all the detainees in Iraq are foreign nationals.
The insurgency is largely home-grown. By our own government’s own count, its ranks are large and growing larger. Its strength has quadrupled since the transfer of sovereignty six months ago –from 5,000 in mid-2004, to 16,000 last October, to more than 20,000 now. The Iraqi intelligence service estimates that the insurgency may have 30,000 fighters and up to 200,000 supporters. It’s clear that we don’t know how large the insurgency is. All we can say with certainty is that the insurgency is growing.
It is also becoming more intense and adaptable. The bombs are bigger and more powerful. The attacks have greater sophistication.
Anthony Cordesman, the national security analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently wrote: “There is no evidence that the number of insurgents is declining as a result of Coalition and Iraqi attacks to date.”
An Army Reservist wrote the stark truth: “The guerillas are filling their losses faster than we can create them.... For every guerilla we kill with a smart bomb, we kill many more innocent civilians and create rage and anger in the Iraqi community. This rage and anger translates into more recruits for the terrorists and less support for us.” Our troops understand that. The American people understand it. And it’s time the Administration understand it.
Beyond the insurgency’s numbers, it has popular and tacit support from thousands of ordinary Iraqis who are aiding and abetting the attacks as a rejection of the American occupation. It is fueled by the anger of ever-larger numbers of Iraqis--not just Saddam loyalists--who have concluded that the United States is either unable or unwilling to provide basic security, jobs, water, electricity and other services.
Anti-American sentiment is steadily rising. CDs that picture the insurrection have spread across the country. Songs glorify combatants. Poems written decades ago during the British occupation after World War I are popular again.
The International Crisis Group, a widely respected conflict prevention organization, recently reported, “These post-war failings gradually were perceived by many Iraqis as purposeful,... designed to serve Washington’s interests to remain for a prolonged period in a debilitated Iraq.”
We have the finest military in the world. But we cannot rely primarily on military action to end politically inspired violence. We can’t defeat the insurgents militarily if we don’t effectively address the political context in which the insurgency flourishes. Our military and the insurgents are fighting for the same thing--the hearts and minds of the people--and that is a battle we are not winning.
The beginning of wisdom in this crisis is to define honest and realistic goals.
First, the goal of our military presence should be to allow the creation of a legitimate, functioning Iraqi government, not to dictate it.
Creating a full-fledged democracy won’t happen overnight. We can and must make progress, but it may take many years for the Iraqis to finish the job. We have to adjust our time horizon. The process cannot begin in earnest until Iraqis have full ownership of that transition. Our continued, overwhelming presence only delays that process.
If we want Iraq to develop a stable, democratic government, America must assist--not control--the newly established government.
Unless Iraqis have a genuine sense that their leaders are not our puppets, the election cannot be the turning point the Administration hopes.
To enhance its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, the new Iraqi Government should begin to disengage politically from America, and we from them.
The reality is that the Bush Administration is continuing to pull the strings in Iraq, and the Iraqi people know it. We picked the date for the transfer of sovereignty. We supported former CIA operative Iyad Allawi to lead the Interim Government. We wrote the administrative law and the interim constitution that now governs Iraq. We set the date for the election, and President Bush insisted that it take place, even when many Iraqis sought delay.
It is time to recognize that there is only one choice. America must give Iraq back to the Iraqi people.
We need to let the Iraqi people make their own decisions, reach their own consensus, and govern their own country.
We need to rethink the Pottery Barn rule. America cannot forever be the potter that sculpts Iraq’s future. President Bush broke Iraq, but if we want Iraq to be fixed, the Iraqis must feel that they, not we, own it.
The Iraqi people are facing historic issues—the establishment of a government, the role of Islam, and the protection of minority rights.
The United States and the international community have a clear interest in a strong, tolerant and pluralistic Iraq, free from chaos and civil war.
The United Nations, not the United States, should provide assistance and advice on establishing a system of government and drafting a constitution. An international meeting--led by the United Nations and the new Iraqi Government--should be convened immediately in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East to begin that process.
For our part, America must accept that the Shiites will be the majority in whatever government emerges. Sixty percent of the population in Iraq is Shiite, and a Shiite majority is the logical outcome of a democratic process in Iraq.
But the Shiites must understand that Iraq’s stability and security will be achieved only by safeguarding minority rights. The door to drafting the Constitution and to serving in government must be left open--even to those who were unwilling or unable or too terrified to participate in the elections.
The Shiites must also understand that America’s support is not open-ended and that America’s role is not to defend an Iraqi government that excludes or marginalizes important sectors of Iraqi society. It is far too dangerous for the American military to take sides in a civil war.
America must adjust to the reality that not all former Baathists will be excluded from Iraqi political life in the new Iraq. After the Iron Curtain fell in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, many former communists went on to participate in the political process. The current Polish President--a strong ally of President Bush in Iraq--is a former active member of the Communist Party who served under Poland’s martial law government during the 1980’s. If communists can change in this way, there is no reason why some former members of the Baath party cannot do so.
If Iraqis wish to negotiate with insurgents who are willing to renounce their violence and join the political process, we should let them do so. Persuading Sunni insurgents to use the ballot, not the bullet, serves the interests of the Shiites too.
Second, for democracy to take root, the Iraqis need a clear signal that America has a genuine exit strategy.
The Iraqi people do not believe that America intends no long-term military presence in their country. Our reluctance to make that clear has fueled suspicions among Iraqis that our motives are not pure, that we want their oil, and that we will never leave. As long as our presence seems ongoing, America’s commitment to their democracy sounds unconvincing.
The President should do more to make it clear that America intends no long-term presence. He should disavow the permanence of our so-called “enduring” military bases in Iraq. He should announce that America will dramatically reduce the size of the American Embassy--the largest in the world.
Once the elections are behind us and the democratic transition is under way, President Bush should immediately announce his intention to negotiate a timetable for a drawdown of American combat forces with the new Iraqi Government.
At least 12,000 American troops and probably more should leave at once, to send a stronger signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation.
As Major General William Nash, who commanded the multinational force in Bosnia, said in November, a substantial reduction in our forces following the Iraqi election “would be a wise and judicious move” to demonstrate that we are leaving and “the absence of targets will go a long way in decreasing the violence."
America’s goal should be to complete our military withdrawal as early as possible in 2006.
President Bush cannot avoid this issue. The Security Council Resolution authorizing our military presence in Iraq can be reviewed at any time at the request of the Iraqi Government, and it calls for a review in June. The UN authorization for our military presence ends with the election of a permanent Iraqi government at the end of this year. The world will be our judge. We must have an exit plan in force by then.
While American troops are drawing down, we must clearly be prepared to oppose any external intervention in Iraq or the large-scale revenge killing of any group. We should begin now to conduct serious regional diplomacy with the Arab League and Iraq’s neighbors to underscore this point, and we will need to maintain troops on bases outside Iraq but in the region.
The United Nations could send a stabilization force to Iraq if it is necessary and requested by the Iraqi government. But any stabilization force must be sought by the Iraqis and approved by the United Nations, with a clear and achievable mission and clear rules of engagement. Unlike the current force, it should not consist mostly of Americans or be led by Americans. All nations of the world have an interest in Iraq’s stability and territorial integrity.
Finally, we need to train and equip an effective Iraqi security force. We have a year to do so before the election of the permanent Iraqi government.
The current training program is in deep trouble, and Iraqi forces are far from being capable, committed, and effective. In too many cases, they cannot even defend themselves, and have fled at the first sign of battle.
It is not enough to tell us—as the Administration has—how many Iraqis go through training. The problem is not merely the numbers. The essential question is how many are prepared to give their lives if necessary, for a future of freedom for their country.
The insurgents have been skilled at recruiting Iraqis to participate in suicide attacks. But too often, the trained Iraqi forces do not have a comparable commitment to the Iraqi government. Recruits are ambivalent about America, unsure of the political transition, and skeptical about the credibility of their military and political institutions. The way to strengthen their allegiance is to give them a worthy cause to defend as soon as possible--a truly free, independent and sovereign Iraq.
We now have no choice but to make the best we can of the disaster we have created in Iraq. The current course is only making the crisis worse. We need to define our objective realistically and redefine both our political and our military presence.
President Bush has left us with few good choices. There are costs to staying, and costs to leaving. There may well be violence as we disengage militarily from Iraq and Iraq disengages politically from us. But there will be much more serious violence if we continue our present dangerous and reckless course. It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from Iraq, but we must begin.
Error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Mindless determination doesn’t make a better outcome likely. Setting a firm strategy for withdrawal may not guarantee success, but not doing so will almost certainly guarantee failure. Casualties are increasing. America is tied down. Our military is stretched to the breaking point. Our capacity to respond to crises and threats elsewhere in the world has been compromised.
The book of Proverbs in the Bible teaches us that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It’s time for President Bush to swallow his pride and end our country’s continuing failures in Iraq and in the eyes of the world. The danger is very real that if he does not, our leadership in the world will be permanently lost. We cannot let that happen.
There is a wiser course we can take in keeping with the best in our heritage and history--a course that will help America, at long last, to regain our rightful place of respect in the world and bring our troops home with honor. Let’s take that course, and take it now.
Copyright © 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on January 28, 2005.
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