November 23, 2005
Let's Stop Destroying the Country We Love

By Ed Koch

The Republicans are headed for a seismic crash in the congressional election of 2006. Their effort last week to embarrass House Democrats by forcing a contrived vote on a non-binding resolution to end the war in Iraq by immediately withdrawing all American troops didn’t succeed and shouldn’t have occurred. Everyone lost, including the Democrats, most of whom supported the Republican resolution. Most important, our country lost. We look foolish and in disarray in the eyes of the world.

We can argue every day about whether the war was a wise choice. With the benefit of hindsight, everyone now agrees that the intelligence provided by our security agencies was just plain wrong. There is no question that while Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s and used poison gas against both Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers, somewhere along the line, it disposed of those weapons without establishing when and how to UN inspectors. To date, no WMDs have been found in Iraq.

I supported the war and believe it was the right decision on the basis of the information provided by the CIA, then under director George Tenet. Tenet has since been rewarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his service. “Slam dunk” Tenet and Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in post-war Iraq who also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his achievements in Iraq, failed in their responsibilities. Tenet’s failure to provide good intelligence and Bremer’s awful decision to demobilize the entire Iraqi army are the main causes of the challenges we now face. Tenet and Bremer deserve censure by the Congress, not honors from the president they misguided. Their medals should be withdrawn.

The many Democrats who initially supported the war would like to explain away their votes by claiming they were misled by the President. That claim is the real lie. Bush relied on Tenet, who was appointed not by him, but by President Clinton.

So here we are, two and a half years after the second Iraqi war was proclaimed to have ended, still mired in Iraq, unable to agree on an exit strategy. Our NATO allies, led by Germany and France, have betrayed us by declining to send their military forces to Iraq; the same is true of our regional allies in the Middle East -- Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The President’s position is, when the “Iraqi army stands up, the American army will stand down,” and we will leave Iraq. In June of this year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld estimated how long the insurrection in Iraq will go on. According to The New York Times, he “echoed remarks by his advisers in recent months suggesting that the insurgency could last as long as a dozen years and that Iraq would become more violent before elections later this year [which have been held].” Frank Rich recited in a column this week the more pungent comment of a television reporter: “On the same day the Senate passed the resolution rebuking Mr. Bush on the war, Martha Raddatz of ABC News reported that ‘only about 700 Iraqi troops’ could operate independently of the U.S. military, 27,000 more could take a lead role in combat ‘only with strong support’ from our forces and the rest of the 200,000-odd trainees suffered from a variety of problems, from equipment shortages to an inability ‘to wake up when told’ or follow orders.” General George W. Casey, Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, gave the Congress a similar analysis recently, stating, “only one Iraqi battalion [500 men] at that time was able to fight fully independent of American forces.”

The Congressional brouhaha of last week was precipitated by Jack Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania, a ranking Member and former Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and who earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his years in combat in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Murtha, who previously supported the war in Iraq, offered an exit strategy , “I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United States occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a ‘free’ Iraq.” He introduced a resolution on November 17, 2005, calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq “at the earliest practical date,” and providing for “a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines shall be deployed in the region.” Murtha’s resolution was never brought to a vote.

The Republicans excoriated Murtha for what they saw as a betrayal, with Bush spokesman Scott McClellan stating that it is "baffling that [Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party." In an attempt to subject the Democrats to ridicule, the Republican leadership offered a non-binding resolution on exiting Iraq with the operative words, “get out immediately.” They knew Democrats would vote against such a resolution fearing to be held accountable in the 2006 election as, at best, fools, and, at worst, cowards. Nancy Pelosi, as the Democratic House leader, should have announced that the Democrats would not participate in the farce and would vote “present” in protest. Instead, they foolishly joined the Republicans in debate and voted “no” with the Republicans, except for three Democrats, Jose Serrano of New York, Robert Wexler of Florida and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, who voted for the resolution.

I believe that Democrats and Republicans who are unhappy with the current state of affairs should rally around my proposal on how to leave Iraq. I propose we put our NATO and regional allies on notice that unless they come to Iraq and place boots on the ground and bear their share of the casualties and costs of the war, the U.S. and its allies in Iraq will leave within six months. In his Sunday column, David Brooks wrote, “If the U.S. leaves, Iraq will descend into a full-scale civil war. The Iranians will come in on the side of the Shiites. The Syrians, Saudis and God knows who else will be tempted to come in on the side of the Sunnis. The Turks will be tempted to come in to take care of the Kurds. We might be looking at the Middle East version of World War I.” If David Brooks prediction comes true, the UN will have to act at that time. The prospect of a civil war might cause NATO, the regional countries and the UN Security Council itself to join us now by providing troops to prevent such a war from occurring, and to head off an American withdrawal.

In the meanwhile, until we reach a consensus, let’s stop destroying the country we all love. The Democrats and their leaders, Senator Harry Reid and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, should stop calling the President a liar. The Republican Party, with the President, joined by Speaker Hastert and Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, should apologize to Jack Murtha for their outrageous attack upon him. The recent praise of Murtha by the President and Vice President Cheney is not adequate.

This is the time to understand that we are at war, and young people we sent into harm’s way in defense of our country are dying on the battlefields. The number of American dead since the war in Iraq was declared over on May 1, 2003, now totals 1,939, and casualties total 15,162. In Afghanistan, 203 American military personnel have been killed. We at home, protected by our young military personnel, are suffering no pain or reduction in our lifestyles. Let’s get serious and appropriately tax those who can afford it, make the corporations pay their fair share of the tax burden, and end their escape from taxation by going offshore. We should get serious about promoting alternative fuels, capturing excess profits by the oil industry and so much more.

A word to former President Clinton: there is something to be said for old time virtues, one of which is not to attack the country’s foreign policies or the President while we are speaking in other countries. We should reserve those criticisms for our appearances and statements here at home.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

Ed Koch

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