If the election results did not make the message clear, polls taken since the election have done so. Support for sending additional troops to Iraq is at 11% according a December 15-17 poll by CNN. The same poll found that 54% of Americans want the troops home by the end of 2007 and 67% oppose the war. Yet, in the Capitol there is talk of adding new troops and almost no talk of getting out of Iraq. Representative government is failing to represent the voters.
Why is the leadership of both parties in Washington, DC failing to discuss getting out of Iraq -- rapidly? They say a US exit will lead to an escalation of violence, a blood bath or civil war. But the truth is we can design a rapid exit from Iraq that reduces the risk of violence. How?
First, it is important to look at the real violence. While sectarian violence gets all the attention in the US media, the November 2006 DoD report, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," found that more than 80% of violence is directed at the US military or at the Iraqi military. "Coalition forces attracted the majority (68%) of attacks," according to the report. Attacks on Iraqi Security Forces are the next largest category, with attacks on civilians being the smallest group. Thus, the real war is between Iraqis fighting the US and America's Iraqi allies. Of course, civilians amount for the most casualties as they are unprotected when attacks occur.
Dahr Jamail, a top reporter on Iraq, reports in a December 28 article entitled "More Troops but Less Control in Iraq": "Through the occupation, each time the US has increased troop levels, there has been a corresponding increase in attacks on the forces, and consequently an increase in civilian casualties." Thus, rather than learning from past experience the Bush administration, with a compliant Congress, are likely to repeat past mistakes.
On December 6 James Baker, the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, even admitted to Anderson Cooper on CNN that removal of US troops may reduce the violence.
Cooper: And is it possible that getting the US troops out will actually lessen that violence, that it will at least take away the motivation of nationalist insurgents?
Baker: Many people have argued that to us. Many people in Iraq made that case.
Cooper: Do you buy it?
Baker: Yes, I think there is some validity to it, absolutely. Then we are no longer seen to be the occupiers.
Despite the fact that a US withdrawal is likely to reduce the violence, Baker concluded: "We're still going to have a very robust -- forced presence in Iraq and in the region for quite a number of years after this thing sorts itself out whichever way it sorts itself out. We have to do that because we cannot -- we have vital national interests in that region."
William Polk, a former Harvard and University of Chicago professor who has served in various foreign policy posts in the US government, is in the process of writing about twelve insurgencies throughout history. His review finds that one common denominator of insurgencies is "when the occupiers leave the violence ends as the insurgency loses support."
While merely leaving Iraq is likely to reduce the violence because Main Street Iraqis will realize they are getting their country back and will no longer have to resist US occupation, there are additional steps the US can take to make a reduction in violence even more likely. William Polk and George McGovern, co-authors of "Out of Iraq," put forward a detailed strategy for leaving in a way that is likely to reduce the violence.
There are two broad areas they recommend: (1) strengthen the government by funding civil works project to rebuild the country, creating jobs for Iraqis and encouraging hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to return home; (2) underwrite a stabilization force that will engage in bringing basic security and policing to Iraq -- a force that will not include US soldiers. The cost of these two steps is a fraction of the cost of the Iraq occupation and will save the US more than $100 billion immediately.
Regarding funding the rebuilding of Iraq, it is important to remember that Iraq was able to rebuild its country after the first Gulf War. They have the capability to rebuild. Rebuilding efforts by Halliburton, Bechtel and other US contractors have failed, and their employment of a foreign workforce has resulted in very high unemployment in Iraq, reportedly over 50%. As an Iraqi businessman told The Washington Post: "The longer this [unemployment] goes on, we are asking for trouble because we are breeding more and more insurgents. Unemployment is exactly what the terrorists want."
Indeed, the US military recognizes that high unemployment may be a major source of the insurgency. As Military.com reported:
"Most of the folks that are out there are not ideologues," Air Force Gen. Lance Smith, who heads US Joint Forces Command, told Inside the Pentagon last week in a telephone interview. "They're people that don't have jobs that [do] have a choice: You can go make 10 or 20 dollars a month picking up trash. . . . You can make -- you pick the number -- 50 or 100 dollars to be a policeman, or 50 or 100 dollars to be a soldier [in the new Iraqi army]. Or you can get $200 to go pick up an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] and go shoot at the next camouflage-desert vehicle that goes by."
The November 20 DoD report on stability in Iraq noted that unemployment "has been an issue that has had a significant effect on the security environment." Combined with underemployment -- estimated by one Iraqi government agency at 34% -- unemployment "may make financial incentives for participating in insurgent or sectarian violence more appealing to military-age males," says the Pentagon assessment.
Polk and McGovern include in their list of costs: rebuilding funding for the reconstruction of Iraq by Iraqis; removing landmines and depleted uranium; dismantling blast walls and wire barriers; restoring archaeological sites; training lawyers, judges, journalists, and social workers in Iraq; bringing back professional Iraqis who emigrated; rebuilding Iraq's public health system; compensating the families of civilians killed and tortured and training an Iraqi police force.
In addition to this, there would be a need to fund a stabilization force -- a force that would not include US soldiers because we cannot bring security to Iraq. They describe this as a group "hired" by the Iraqis, not to fight the insurgency, but to provide order on the roads, at schools, banks, hospitals and other key locations. This force would preferably include Arabs and Muslims from non-contiguous countries acting under UN auspices or a regional authority like the Arab League. Polk and McGovern estimate such a force would cost $6 billion for two years.
McGovern and Polk estimate the cost of rebuilding Iraq to be $13.2 billion. David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org makes a slightly higher estimate totaling $22.05 billion based primarily on the number of Iraqis killed or injured as he used the Lancet study, which came out after McGovern and Polk's book was written. Swanson points out "That's the cost of twelve and a half weeks of occupying Iraq." The Congress has already approved $70 billion for Iraq 2007 expenditures and will be considering another $100 billion in an appropriation supplemental this February. Thus, the US will immediately save $148 billion -- that's billions the US will not have to borrow from China and other countries as the government is already spending more than we have.
But, it is also $148 billion that could be spent on other basic needs at home. For example, we could restore, and add to, the nearly $2 billion cut from veterans benefits last year. Further, the US could invest in the most important step to protect its security: slow global warming, protect the environment and build a 21st Century economy -- invest in evolving from a fossil fuel based economy to a clean, sustainable energy economy. Then, the US would no longer have the need to engage in oil wars. We'd even have money left over for a middle class tax cut!
Ending the occupation of Iraq is consistent with the views of the majority of Americans, will save tens of billions of dollars, allow investment in urgent needs at home and put our economy on a more secure footing. Yet, the leadership in Congress is not even debating it. They seem to put their desire for military bases in Iraq, control of Iraq and Middle East oil and protection of Israel ahead of the views of the voters. Is our democracy working?
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