Will U.S. get out of Iraq? Debate over Iraq options unfolds

When the bipartisan Iraq Study Group released its recommendations Dec. 6, they were widely seen as an effort to identify the “least bad” options for U.S. ruling circles that would, to the extent possible, salvage their interests in Iraq and the region.

Panel members also expressed concern over U.S. public opinion, which now overwhelmingly wants an end to the war and, as former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) put it, “sees the administration as dysfunctional.”

The group said its most important recommendations were for “a new diplomatic offensive” by the U.S. and a “change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq” from combat to training and support of Iraqi forces.

Its most significant break with current Bush administration policy appeared to be its call for regional diplomacy, including “engaging” Iran and Syria. It also called for renewed U.S. efforts for “comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace,” including “a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”

While saying the U.S. “must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq,” the report projected a long-term military presence there.

“The U.S. must adjust its role in Iraq,” the report’s executive summary says. It calls for the main role of U.S. troops to “evolve” to supporting the Iraqi army, and says that by early 2008, “all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.” But combat units “embedded” with Iraqi forces, “rapid-reaction and special operations teams,” and “intelligence and support efforts” would continue.

Former CIA head Robert Gates, Bush’s pick to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, echoed that theme. He told senators at his Dec. 5 confirmation hearing that a change in strategy on Iraq was needed but said “the United States is going to have some presence in Iraq for a long time.” Gates, who was a member of the Iraq Study Group but stepped down after Bush nominated him for the Pentagon post, said the “mission” could be accomplished with a “dramatically smaller” force than the current 140,000 troops.

Rejecting this approach, Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, said in a statement, “The first necessary step is an immediate cease-fire and an announcement that the U.S. will be withdrawing its troops, on a timetable, and that we have no plans to leave behind military bases or to control Iraqi oil.”

Martin welcomed the recommendations for regional negotiations, noting that the Bush administration “has proven itself neither adept at nor particularly interested in diplomacy during its six years in office.”

Peace Action held a National Call-In Day Dec. 5 and 6, asking members of Congress to fulfill the voters’ mandate and end the Iraq war now.

It coincided with a Dec. 5 meeting of congressional Democrats on Iraq. The goal, a congressional staffer said, was not to determine what the Democrats’ policy is going to be, but to open a discussion of alternatives.

At a news conference afterward, House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated the Democratic leadership’s earlier call for “redeployment and transition of our troops out of Iraq.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who attended the meeting, said in a statement, “The American people sent a clear message in November and one of the top priorities of the new Congress must be both finding a way to end the occupation of Iraq and to bring our troops home and ensuring that nothing like the disaster in Iraq ever happens again.

“Today’s meeting was a signal of intent, a sign that Democrats heard the message that voters sent in November and we will ensure that Congress finally has a real, informed debate on this unnecessary war, and how we can get out,” she said.

Lee, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is also a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, declared, “I can assure you that the people who opposed this war from the start will be playing a leading role in that debate.”

She emphasized, “We need to begin with an agreement on the outcome: when our troops come home, they should all come home. There should be no permanent military bases in Iraq. When President Bush refused to rule out permanent bases, as he did in a recent press conference, he fed the widespread perception that the U.S. intends a permanent occupation of Iraq, which is one of the forces that is fueling violence on the ground.”

The Bush administration appeared to be trying to make it seem as though any policy changes were its idea.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Dec. 5 that the Pentagon expects “the complete transfer” of military control to Iraqi forces by mid-2007. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had pressed Bush for such a move.

At the same time, Bush continued to try to manage Iraq’s politics, including personal meetings with Iraqi political figures. He appeared to be carrying out steps advocated by his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, in a classified memo that was leaked to The New York Times. Hadley recommended use of “monetary support” and other “political capital” to manipulate Iraqi political groups.

suewebb @ pww.org