THE BLOG
09/14/2005 01:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

SEPT. 15- FIRST HEARINGS ON EXIT STRATEGY

NOTE: ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, THE FIRST CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS ON EXITING IRAQ WILL COMMENCE, FEATURING REPUBLICAN AS WELL AS DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATIVES. THIS EVENT MARKS A DEEP SHIFT IN CONGRESSIONAL DISCOURSE, FROM PREVIOUS HEARINGS ON HOW TO MANAGE THE WAR TO THE FIRST HEARINGS ON HOW TO WITHDRAW TROOPS AND END THE OCCUPATION. THE HEARINGS WILL BE TELEVISED ON C-SPAN.

OVER TWENTY-THOUSAND PETITIONS DEMANDING AN EXIT STRATEGY, COLLECTED LARGELY BY PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA (PDA), WILL BE PRESENTED TO REP. LYNN WOOLSEY DURING THE HEARING. A RALLY OUTSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE WILL FOLLOW.

NO ONE FROM THE ORGANIZED PEACE MOVEMENT HAS BEEN INVITED TO TESTIFY. BELOW ARE COMMENTS THAT WILL BE PRESENTED DURING THE HEARING AND RALLY.

Comments for Congressional hearing on Iraq exit strategy, Sept. 15, 2005
By Tom Hayden

Madame Chair and members,

Today you commence a vital shift in our government's official discourse on Iraq, from how to win the war in Iraq to how to withdraw troops and end the occupation. This change of paradigm is overdue, is in keeping with public sentiment, and begins to fill a dangerous vacuum. We cannot accept a faith-based commitment to “stay the course” when a majority of Americans believe the war is mistaken, when the cost of hurricane damage is two years of Iraq spending, when National Guardsmen who need to be home are forty percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq, when the original “coalition of the willing” is rapidly disintegrating. Proposals to “stay the course” for another decade - a typical length of counter-insurgency wars- could easily mean over 7,000 more American lives lost, 40,000 American wounded, and some $600 billion in tax expenditures.

As one of the original advocates of this Congressional hearing, I am submitting a concrete exit strategy proposal supported by over 20,000 petitions, a number which is still growing. This is the first blueprint for withdrawal and ending the occupation submitted after extensive discussions by representatives of social movements.

I must note that while peace advocates originally proposed this hearing, their voices are missing from the witness list, with the exception of Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American. Those with the intelligence to have opposed this war from the beginning surely deserve a voice in discussions of how to end it. If this were a hearing on the status of women, women's advocates would have a voice in the proceedings. If this were a hearing on the state of African Americans, or the state of Latinos, there would be black and Latino representation at the table. But when it comes to making peace the peace movement is rarely if ever heard.

The peace process proposed in the petition contains the following core elements in boldface, with my own clarifications:

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First, as a confidence-building measure, the US government must declare that it has no interest in permanent military bases or the control of Iraqi oil or other resources. [the purpose here is to dispel the widespread Iraqi and international belief that the US seeks permanent control of the Middle East. Without such an assurance, the war will continue indefinitely]

Second, as a further confidence-building measure, the US government must set goals for ending the occupation and bringing all our troops home - in months, not years, beginning with an initial withdrawal of troops by the end of this year. [ this does not mean a retreat from the peace movement demand for “out now”, but recognizes that implementation takes a period of time. It also speaks of “months, not years”, which means as soon as practical and less than 12-month withdrawal timetables. The definition of troops means all “occupation forces” including mercenaries.]

Third, the US government must request that the United Nations monitor the process of military disengagement and de-escalation, and organize a peaceful reconstruction effort. The US must accept its obligation to fairly compensate Iraqis for damages and assist and assist Iraqi reconstruction while not imposing privatization schemes and while ending the dominance of US contractors in the bidding process. [the United Nations might authorize a smaller international body to perform these tasks. This means troop withdrawals are not enough. The economic occupation which favors private foreign contractors and investors over Iraqi enterprises must be dismantled as well.]
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Fourth, the US government should appoint a peace envoy independent of the occupation authorities to underscore its commitment to an entirely different mission, that of a peace process ending the occupation and returning our soldiers home. [a start in this process would be rapid release of Iraqi detainees and the immediate end of aggressive army raids. See below.]

Fifth, the peace envoy should encourage and cooperate in talks with Iraqi groups opposed to the occupation, including insurgents, to explore a political settlement. The settlement must include meaningful representation of opposition forces and parties including women, and power-sharing as a core principle of governance and economic and energy development. We believe such an initiative will reduce though not eliminate violence, by lessening any rationale for jihadist or sectarian conflict. It would also remove the rationale and lessen support for violence by the most hardline “jihadists”. [The peace envoy should be mandated to negotiate new diplomatic understandings with Iran, Syria, other regional governments with strong Sunni populations, the Europeans and Russians. Fostering a viable, independent Palestinian state would contribute to building a wider peace. But present Middle Eastern policies offer few incentives for a peaceful Iraq settlement.


I want to make two general comments in justification of this exit strategy.

The first is that it requires that our government withdraw from funding, training and organizing a sectarian war by the Baghdad regime against the Sunni population and the rest of the Iraqi oppostion. Instead it requires an accommodation with the Sunni minority through power sharing, district-based elections, the end of de-Baathification, and above all, ceasing aggressive military operations - 12,000 US military patrols per week, 8,000 house raids since May 2003, and 80,000 detentions since the invasion began. Most of these operations turn up nothing, and most of those incarcerated at released shortly after. According to the Red Cross, US intelligence officers report that between 70 and 90 percent are held by mistake. Eighty percent of US offensives have focused on Sunni areas, and according to one study, “this pattern did not emerge in response to the insurgency. Instead, it began as a process of asserting control over Sunni areas and mopping up former regime elements.”

Sunnis are not the only targets of the occupation. Many Shiites, especially the Mahdi Army aligned with Moktada Al-Sadr, are resisting the occupation, sometimes in alliance with Sunnis. But the Sunnis, having enjoyed relative privilege during the Saddam years, are being rendered powerless systematically. For example, the current occupation blueprint fails to allocate electoral seats along local or regional lines, which would ensure Sunni representation. Instead all of Iraq is organized as a monolithic electoral district, which prevents all Sunnis in the war zone from maximizing any electoral strength they may wish to. By contrast, the system disproportionately favors the Kurdish minority, the only Iraqi constituency that supports the occupation in surveys.

The reality of this war has changed sharply from its original justification, when our government claimed to be attacking a dictatorship on behalf of a democratic Iraqi alternative. Now, as pointed out, the US is taking sides in a Kurdish-Shiite civil war against Sunnis and all opponents of the occupation. This process is leading towards the dismemberment of Iraq as an entity, and ultimately a theocratic state at odds with our professed values. Already, this outcome is being “spun” as acceptable by some. For example, a former clandestine CIA officer and current neoconservative analyst, Reuel March Gerecht, says on "Meet the Press" that "women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy." John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who authored the internal memos liberalizing the definition of torture, derides the quest for a unified Iraq. He is an expert on dismembering, after all. David Brooks belittles those who “scream about a thirteenth-century theocratic state.” The Washington Post reports that US planners have “lowered their sights” for what is possible in Iraq.

Our government has followed this divide-and-conquer path before, for example, in supporting the mujahadeen against the Russians in Afghanistan, the Islamists against the secular PLO in the occupied territories. In addition to undermining political nationalism [which polls show is the main cause of Iraqi resistance], such a strategy would open the way to the privatization policies initiated by Paul Bremer III - the Iraqi economy subordinated to the World Trade Organization, safe for Halliburton, WalMart and American oil behemoths. The practical problem with this approach is that it guarantees the likelihood of a US-backed civil war - almost certainly to be a bloody long-term quagmire - on behalf of free markets for American contractors, instead of an exit strategy based on political accommodation and preservation of Iraq's public economic sector.

The other key change in thinking that is necessary to withdraw from Iraq is that, far from supporting democracy, the US occupation is opposed by a majority of Iraqis. We should be talking about the end of occupation with those Iraqis who want peace. This may seem a startling observation, but only because the Pentagon, White House and most in the mainstream media have failed to report numerous surveys of Iraqi opinion that contradict the official story. Instead they repeat the false refrain that our troops are fighting a handful of die-hards and fanatics on behalf of most Iraqis. The truth is that we are fighting on the side of a minority in civil war while most Americans, according to Fox News polls, are deluded into thinking the Iraqi people want us to stay.

Here are some facts:

A majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation, and those who “strongly oppose” the occupation are much more numerous than those who “strongly support.” When the Kurds are excluded from such surveys, the Sunni and Shiite majorities escalate. The last survey in January of this year showed 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favoring a near-term withdrawal.

A 2004 poll conducted for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) revealed that a 55 majority would feel safer if US troops left the country immediately.

A March-April 2004 poll showed 71 percent defining the Americans as occupiers. Eighty-two percent of Baghdad residents held this view while only four percent thought of them as “liberators”.

On June 12, 82 members of the Iraqi National Assembly - over one-third of the body - issued a public letter calling for the end of the occupation. They also complained that top Iraqi officials usurped their authority in going to the United Nations to seek an extension of the occupation. The letter, which I have sent to your Committee chair, has to my knowledge never been mentioned in the American media.

In July, a former minister in the Iraqi cabinet, Aiham Al-Sammarae, announced formation of a new organization to broker peace agreement with Iraqi insurgents. He even traveled to Washington to describe his plan to the Mid East Institute, where he said that “bringing insurgent leaders into the political fold is the main way forward for Iraq.” Despite once having been hugged and called a hero by President Bush, his visit as a peacemaker was not covered in our media, except for independent journalist Robert Dreyfuss.

The Shiites represented by Moktada Al-Sadr, who favor a unified Iraqi government, recently collected one million signatures calling for US withdrawal and have entered the political process. Twice this year tens of thousands of his followers have taken to the streets calling for US withdrawal, which indicates why the US demonizes Al-Sadr and backs the current more sectarian Shiite leadership which supports the occupation. Al-Sadr, meanwhile, has used his influence to keep the peace for over six months in the slums of Sadr City, permitting $150 million in US reconstruction money to flow there. In response, US officials are described as not having “a good assessment of Mr. Sadr's intentions but that they are watching him closely.” In the past, of course, Mr. Al-Sadr's Medhi army has risen against the US forces on two occasions, and may again. But the six-month de facto cease-fire coupled with reconstruction should be scene as a model for reducing violence elsewhere. Instead, the US regards Al-Sadr as an enemy because he opposes the occupation, not because he has attacked US troops recently.
What has been the US response besides silence? At the time of last January's election, US intelligence operatives warned of “grim” news that the winning faction would press for a withdrawal timetable. In other words, continuing the war through a government excluding Sunnis would not be as “grim” as having to end the American occupation at the request of an elected government.

What all this means is that civil society and responsive members of Congress will have to formulate and somehow implement an exit strategy without waiting for an executive branch that continues to see Iraqi and American public opinion as obstacles to their plans for what Mark Dayton described this week as the “forever war.” Civil society will have to play the major part, influencing the system from the outside, since the leadership of both parties have chosen the option of continued war, with the exception of a courageous minority in each party. Or perhaps the American voters will force the Congress to adopt an exit strategy in 2006. In any event, the war can be ended without leadership from the political parties. The shortage of American troops is disastrous, and the public will prevent the politicians from reinstating the draft. The budget crisis deepens in the wake of Katrina. The US is without significant military allies; the second largest contingent are the 20,000 stateless mercenaries, and Fiji soldiers guard the Green Zone.

The starting point in changing the debate is understanding that we are now immersed in a sectarian war, not a war against Saddam Hussein, and a war that is seen as mistaken by majorities in both America and Iraq.

What are the options? (1) To “stay the course” means a costly bloodbath leading to a dismembered Iraq or a Shiite Republic, at enormous cost in lives, tax dollars, and America's international reputation. (2) A “South Vietnam” ending would mean the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, the storming of the Green Zone, and humiliating defeat. (3) A decision not to “cut and run” but “cut our losses” by adopting a viable exit strategy. In the first two scenarios America will remain at the mercy of forces it has not been able to understand or subdue. Only along the third path will the people of our country begin to regain control over our government and its policies. #