2007-02-09 / Columnists

Meeks Message From Capitol Hill

The President's Plan: Neither A Way Forward Nor A Way Out
Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MeeKS GREGORY MeeKS Last month, in a self-dubbed "A New Way Forward" speech to the nation, and then in his State of the Union address, President Bush announced his new plan for Iraq. What many were hoping would be a long-awaited reality check is neither a way forward nor a way out of the occupation, insurgency, and sectarian civil war into which he has entrapped himself and the rest of us.

Bush is trying to serenade the Congress and the country with "the same old song, just with a different melody." More "stay the course." More wordplay (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called sending in 21,000 additional troops to Baghdad and insurgency-dominated Anbar Province 'an augmentation' instead of an escalation). More administration arrogance that is sure to further weaken the already weak Iraq government.

More fiction that withdrawing from Iraq will make America less safe despite all the evidence that staying puts America and Americans more at risk. More saber-rattling at Iran and Syria. More attempts to scare the American people with "we must fight terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here."

Fear worked in 2004, but it isn't working now. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 65 percent of the American people oppose sending more troops to Iraq. In fact, 59 percent of the public wants Congress to take steps to prevent the president from sending more troops to Iraq. More than a quarter of Republicans feel that way.

A scant 29 percent of the public approves of the president's handling of the war; 70 percent disapprove; 65 percent say it was a mistake to go to war; 55 percent do not believe that the president has made America safer; 52 percent support withdrawing our forces to avoid further casualties rather than leave them in Iraq until security is established.

Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president (and a Republican), once said: "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." I believe that moment has arrived. The president can no longer bamboozle the people and he won't be able to bulldoze the 110th Congress.

Mr. Bush pursued a go-it-alone policy in invading and occupying Iraq and apparently believes he can continue to go it alone without the approval or support of the people, the Congress, much of the military, most of our allies, and almost all of the countries in the region.

Even Britain rejects the president's "new way forward." The British plan to draw down their forces in the next few months and hand over responsibility for the south of the country to the Iraqis. The coalition of the willing is no longer willing. We face really going it alone.

Where our troops have been extraordinarily capable, the administration has been extraordinarily incompetent in every facet of the conduct of this war.

The president admits to making mistakes but never says what those mistakes are. It's hard to have confidence that someone can get out of a mess if he won't tell you how he got into it.

There are worrying signs that the president may compound his already-catastrophic errors. He has placed Patriot Missiles in Iraq targeted at Iran; ordered a second carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf; cut off one of Iran's largest banks from the U.S. financial system; appointed an admiral to head the Central Command that oversees our military forces in the Middle East; arrested several Iranian diplomats in Iraq; raided an Iranian consulate which was accredited by the Iraq government; and toughened his talk of "interrupting the flow of support from Iran and Syria."

Great responsibility falls on Congress to rein in the president. A nonbinding resolution stating Congress's opposition to an escalation of troop deployment will be an important first step. But others are necessary.

A number of my colleagues (Democrats and Republicans) and I are focusing on the Iraq Study Group's call for "new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly."

We are forming a Dialogue Caucus to promote dialogue and diplomacy at this critical juncture in this critical region.

Our premise is simple: Use the carrot before the stick. We believe it is essential to persuade all the stakeholders in the Middle East - including Iran and Syria - in a comprehensive dialogue on forming a support group to reinforce security and achieve national reconciliation within Iraq, something the Iraqis are unable to do on their own.

We include Iran and Syria because each has the capacity to influence events within Iraq but both have an interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq and preventing a regional sectarian conflagration.

Escalation throws fuel on the flames. Dialogue and diplomacy are aimed at dousing the fires of occupation, insurgency, sectarian violence, and civil war in one of the world's most strategic regions.

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