Powell Warns Against Sending More US Troops to Iraq

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared on December 17 that the US is “losing” the war in Iraq and warned against the Bush administration’s plans to send in more troops, even in the short-term.

He told CBS’ Face the Nation program: “It’s grave and deteriorating and we’re not winning, we are losing … And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around. I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work.”

A former four-star general, Mr Powell argued that the war in Iraq has already pushed the US military near breaking point and there is no clear mission for them to accomplish: “The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they’re being asked to perform. There are really no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there longer, and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops. If I were still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question to whoever is proposing it (would be), what mission is it these troops are to accomplish? If victory means you have got rid of every insurgent, that you have peace throughout the country, I don’t see that in the cards right now.”

Mr Powell generally endorses the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. He said the priority of the US should be to work with the Maliki government to facilitate national reconciliation and the handover of security responsibilities to the Iraqis, and he supports opening dialogue with Syria and Iran. Although he has “no illusion that either Syria or Iran want to help us in Iraq”, he said his military and diplomatic experience has taught him that it is nevertheless necessary to engage nations such as these in dialogue.

Meanwhile, President Bush has dismissed the Iraq Study Group’s report in favor of a paper entitled “Choosing Victory” prepared by the American Enterprise Institute, the same neoconservative think tank that provided the ideological basis for using war to spread democracy. After consulting the report’s authors, Mr Bush now favors sending a ‘surge’ of 25,000 additional troops to Iraq in the new year.

Critics argue that the ideological mission failed because it is “too simplistic” to try to spread democracy through military force. As Michael O’Hanlon, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, recently told Time magazine, “The Administration’s top-down approach of assuming that elections will solve problems has been too simplistic. You also need educational institutions and economic development.” The Bush administration has clearly not budgeted for that level of nation-building.

Mr Powell also pointed out that while the US is mired in Iraq, “we have been somewhat constrained in our ability to influence events elsewhere”, such as escalating conflicts throughout the Middle East and North Korea. “I think we are a little less safe, in the sense that we don’t have the same force structure available for other problems,” said Mr Powell.

It is not yet clear what contribution will be made by incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a renowned foreign policy realist who candidly told the Senate during his confirmation hearings that the US was “not winning” in Iraq. Following his swearing in at the Pentagon on Monday, Mr Gates said, “We simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come”.

Mr Gates said his first priority is visiting Iraq to meet with military commanders as he works to develop a new war plan. Only last month, Gen. John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, told a Senate panel that higher troop levels are not sustainable because nearly every unit is either deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, recovering from a deployment, or preparing for one; he added that sending more US troops would reduce pressure on Iraqis to take over their own security.

The new Secretary of Defense has already broken the mold of his predecessor by vowing to listen to his generals and military advisors. Mr Gates continues to raise hopes that he will use his influence to transform the Bush administration’s failed ideology-driven foreign policy to one that is driven by realism.

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