Edwards and Coble Oppose Bush Iraq Policy
U.S. Congressman Howard Coble and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards are of different parties, but they agree on one thing: President Bush is pointing U.S. troops in the wrong direction.
"John is saying this now, but I have been saying this for two years," Coble said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I like the president enormously. I enjoy being in his presence. I thought it was a good speech, but if we are going to have a 'surge' in troops, let's surge it in this direction."
The proposed 20,000 to 22,000 additional troops Bush is sending to Iraq will do little to help the United States leave that country and little to encourage Iraqis to take over responsibility for the stability of their own country, they said.
"Twenty-two thousand troops just lingers our presence," Coble said. "I am disappointed that it appears we had no post-entry strategy. I voted to send troops to remove Saddam Hussein. I was convinced Saddam Hussein was an international terrorist and we needed to take him out."
Coble said it never occurred to him that the administration might not have a clear plan as to what should come next. Now he thinks there was no plan.
"I assumed somebody surely had looked beyond their noses and decided what to do after we took him out," he said. "I just don't think anybody did that."
Edwards, too, voted initially to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. He has since said he made a mistake to do it. Edwards, in an e-mail reacting to the plan Bush announced in his speech Wednesday night, calls sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq "a grave mistake."
It is time to bring troops home now, Edwards said. The president is sending in more troops with no post-entry strategy, he said.
"Escalating the war in Iraq sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people, to the region, and the world," Edwards said. "To get the Iraqis to begin to take responsibility for their country, we must show them that we are serious about leaving. And the best way to do that is by actually starting to leave -- beginning by immediately withdrawing 40,000-50,000 of our troops, not escalating the war."
Edwards, who grew up in Robbins, is again seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. After he abandoned his bid in 2004, Sen. John Kerry tapped him to be his vice-presidential running mate.
He called for Congress to cut off funding unless Bush has an exit strategy.
"Congress should make it clear to the president that he will not get any money to put more of our troops in harm's way until he provides a plan to turn responsibility of Iraq over to the Iraqi people and to ultimately leave Iraq," Edwards said in the e-mail.
Iraq Must 'Take Control'
The real issue is how Iraqis and their leaders assume control over and responsibility for their own country, according to retired Army Gen. William "Buck" Kernan of Pinehurst, who helps to train police and military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kernan runs a company that helps train and support new government security structures in Middle Eastern war zones and throughout Eastern Europe and Africa. Speaking by telephone, he said the troops that Iraq needs now are not combat, but ones that can train their police and military.
"The one thing we need more of is trainers," Kernan said. "Dropping 20,000 more troops in the middle of Baghdad is like shoving your fist in a bucket of water. It is going to make a difference, but the real issue is making Iraqi leaders step up to the plate, and the willingness of the populace to be compliant."
That decision, that state of responsibility, will have much more impact than U.S. troops, he said.
"If they elect to continue to fight one another, no matter how many troops, you are not going to stop that," Kernan said. "It is almost like what the Brits went through in Northern Ireland. It is really up to their political leaders as well as military and police leaders. It is impossible for the U.S. to guarantee their liberty and their sovereignty."
Iraqis are emerging from many years under despotic rule, with little experience of political liberty or representative self-government.
"They are still struggling," Kernan said. "They have to learn how to take control, be in charge, show national leadership. That means everybody: judicial, political, military and police. The people have to develop trust, have to have confidence in their public servants."
The Oil Factor
Oil underlies and looms over everything in the modern Middle East, Kernan said.
"All those nations have to realize their oil is a national resource," Kernan said. "It is there to serve all the people of that nation. There is a huge international demand for oil. Iraqis are in a good position economically. How they use those national resources is a moral responsibility the Iraq leadership has."
Its neighbor next door is about to reach the bottom of the tank, he said.
"If you look at the reserves in Iran, they are expected to be exhausted by 2015," he said. "That is a major spigot turned off. You could write a great movie or novel on the coming effects of the loss of oil revenue to that state. Is this causing them to ally with their neighbors, or attack them?"
Kernan has not found the actions of Iran's recent leaders to be very encouraging.
"We know they have been a disrupting, not a stabilizing influence in the Middle East," he said. "What does that mean? Are they going to be international partners and do things to reduce violence, or are they going to be disruptive? Right now, indicators are they will do the latter rather than the former."
Iran could change course, according to Kernan. Another country, once regarded as disruptive, has done just that. Libya is no longer adopting a position of challenge to the world, he said.
"I think Khaddafi realized he had become more isolated after 9/11," Kernan said. "He was declared a nation that harbored and supported terrorists. He was on everybody's 'bad boy' list, and saw no future in that."
What Iran decides and what the people and leaders of Iraq decide, will do far more to affect the course and challenges of the future than adding U.S. troops, he said.
Coble, too, says Iraqis have to do things for themselves now and let us come home.
"We didn't go over there to live," he said. "And pulling out isn't cutting and running. It is time to hand the baton to Iraqis. They have been holding our coat for us. It is time for us to say, 'Give our coat back to us, and you all take over.' I don't think that is too far-fetched."
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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