A New Direction

    Congress should respond to President George W. Bush’s call for 21,500 more troops with time frames for redeployment out of Iraq and, should those time frames be ignored, financial restrictions.

    Priscilla Lazaro/Guardian

    It is true that the United States cannot simply leave Iraq. To do so would open the region to attack from violent sectarian leaders and rebel groups. The Iraqi security forces have shown that they are not ready to defend their neighborhoods from such attacks without assistance. Every time the Iraqi leaders have prohibited U.S. involvement in skirmishes, the contested region has fallen into worse violence than before.

    This is not to say that U.S. forces have been successful – far from it. Over 3,000 Americans have lost their lives trying to establish stability for a foreign people. In regions that have been “”cleared”” of insurgents, violence continues to thrive.

    “”Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons,”” Bush said in an address to the nation Jan. 10. “”There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.””

    The next logical step is to send sufficient troops to Iraq and pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take a more active role utilizing Iraqi security forces in the fight for Baghdad.

    Establishing such pressure on the Iraqi government from the Bush administration is the one hope for the United States to exit this war. The timing is everything. Forces must stay long enough to ensure that Iraq is ready to fend for itself, but not so long that Iraq doesn’t feel pressure to defend itself without U.S. help.

    And here is where Congress needs to flex its financial muscles.

    Forget about Democrat and Republican – this is a matter of taking action on the views of the majority of the American people (67 percent are opposed to war according to CNN/Opinion Research). Members of both parties have expressed concern about Bush’s latest plan and prolonged exposure in Iraq. Both sides agree that we need to get out soon. The issue at hand is how fast and in what way.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it best, pointing out that more troops is a necessary, though painful, move to secure Iraq’s nonviolent future. He denounces those who say forces should begin leaving in the next four to six months. “”If we walk away from Iraq, we’ll be back, possibly in the context of a wider war in the world’s most volatile region,”” McCain said.

    If U.S. forces leave before Iraqi forces are strong enough, the country is left wide open to attack from extremists. We will have failed at our original purpose for the war – to set up a free government and destroy the places where terrorists seek haven – simply because we grew weary. All the lives lost in Iraq will have been in vain. The United States and Iraq owe it to those who have lost their lives to stay until the job is done – until Iraq can protect itself and its new form of government.

    There have been failures and broken agreements on the part of both the Iraqis and Bush before. This is why Congress needs to implement a timetable for redeployment – to pressure Maliki to strengthen his forces by a certain date. Bush has told Maliki that the support of the United States “”is not open-ended,”” but specific, realistic dates must be enforced.

    Congress will soon vote on a nonbinding resolution denouncing the new strategy. This will accomplish nothing but documenting what the American public has already expressed: We’re not happy. Congress needs to make it clear that it will exercise its financial oversight power within the next year if a redeployment strategy is not underway.

    Such financial pressure will put the Bush administration in crisis mode, which will in turn pressure Maliki to maximize his efforts. Maliki should know that he has one year to get control of Iraq and train Iraqi forces­-then the United States is going home.

    Maliki has said, over and over, that he will mount sufficient defensive operations. He hasn’t. So now Bush must send more troops to stop the spread of violence, and again ask Maliki to figure it out.

    Congress must end this vicious cycle by placing firm deadlines for continued financial support. Regulation must be concrete to insure accountability on Bush’s part. Bush must realize that the American public has had it with this war. Maliki must take responsibility for his country, and Congress must put concrete pressure on both leaders to guarantee results.

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