DMI Blog

Mario Cuomo

Foreign Policy

mario cuomo.jpg This is the sixth installment in a series by former Governor Mario Cuomo.

The majority of the American people and most military leaders who feel free to speak do not support the current war in Iraq. But the President remains unconvinced and has ordered tens of thousands more troops and support personnel into the battle over the opposition of the Congress and most of the American people they represent.

The President’s stated rationale is that we must sacrifice still more of our American forces in order to avoid making Iraq a place of civil war, violence and chaos. But, after four years of American occupation, Iraq is already a place of civil war, violence and chaos and our presence there has served as a provocation that helped make it the disaster that it is.

Nevertheless, until now, the president has persisted in saying we must stay the course until he can declare we have achieved a “victory”: or at least “stabilization” there. How would we know the President’s version of “victory” or “stabilization” when we saw it? Presumably it would require that we have in place an effectiveall-Iraqi government agreed to by the Shias, their mortal enemies the Sunnis and their alienated northern neighbors the Kurds. Iraq would have to be at peace, not dominated by Iran which favors Shias nor Saudi Arabia which favors Sunnis, with a competent police force and military force that together would put down serious internal disturbances.

After four years, with 160,000 or so troops in the field, we are nowhere near those conditions. How could 20-or-30 thousand more soldiers do what we haven’t been able to do already?

So, the bitter exchange between our obdurate President and the anguished majority of Americans continues, while roadside bombs continue to explode, soldiers die or are crippled, parents, loved ones and the American people weep and the escalation goes forward. The Democrats in Congress, with growing assistance of the Republicans, have struggled to find an effective way to use Congress to end what they and most Americans consider a grotesquely misguided and destructive military disaster.

Logic and a closer reading of our Constitution would suggest it shouldn’t be as hard for Congress to do that as it has proven to be. The same reasons that persuaded the Founding Fathers to make the complex and difficult question of whether or not to go to war in the first place a question for Congress instead of the President (See Art. I, Sect. 8, line 11 of the United States Constitution) give Congress the power to end wars. (See Senator Russell Feingold’s concise but complete treatment of the Constitutional issue dated January 30, 2007, specifically quoting James Madison See also Savage; Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court, 4th Edition; pp 212-213.)

Unfortunately, since the end of the Second World War Presidents, Congress and the Supreme Court have ignored the language of the Constitution and permitted over-eager Presidents and faint-hearted Congresses to make up their own rules on who should be able to declare war. And that is what has happened here. The Congress should never have permitted the President to declare a war – indeed a preemptive war -- unilaterally. That was the job of the Congress. The fact that Congress has ducked its responsibility before does not make it constitutionally correct or wise to do so repeatedly. Nor does it condone the Supreme Court’s reluctance to resolve disputes over “war powers” by applying the clear language of Article 1 § 8 line 11 of the Constitution by calling the disputes “political questions” and sending them back to Congress and the President unresolved. In effect the Court’s repeated use of that faux rationale has left us without the benefit of the Court and the Constitution in deciding the most potent and dangerous questions the nation is faced with—“Should we go to war?” And, “Should we end this war?”

It is worth noting that confronted by one of the most “political” questions ever, in Bush v. Gore, five “Conservative” members of the Supreme Court ignored their “political question” theory and seized the opportunity to decide the case in order to see George W. Bush elected President.

Now, short of a new burst of legal conscience by the Congress and the Supreme Court, our best hope is for the President and the Congress both to become convinced that there is a way to withdraw most of our troops while stabilizing Iraq internally at the same time.

There are in existence plans that purport to do that, including the Baker-Hamilton Task Force[pdf]. One is particularly convincing to me. It is set forth in extensive detail in a book called Out of Iraq written by Thomas R. Polk and George McGovern. It is heavily reliant on the quoted opinions of military experts. In a nutshell, it calls for moving our troops out of harm’s way with a gradual redeployment that leaves some American troops in the vicinity of Iraq to do standby duty and to continue to train Iraqi police and military. It suggests a new force to replace our troops in Iraq, made up of personnel from neighboring nations (including Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait) and possibly contingents from NATO, the EU and the UN to function until there is a major reduction in the insurgency and significantly improved ability by the Iraqi security forces to protect non-combatants. Another vital piece would be an agreement to share the resources from Iraq’s large oil deposits fairly among the three major groups. The plan also includes a long list of policies, programs and interventions that would help the new Iraq to create jobs and a vibrant economy: without which no new nation could long survive.

The plan is too extensive to describe here in all of its details but is worth everyone’s consideration–especially the President’s. Indeed, it would need more than his consideration: it would need his vigorous, all-out support. The President would have to bring to the effort an energy that inspires other Muslim and Arab nations and our allies to participate in creating a replacement force and with the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure. Interestingly, Iran has indicated it would be willing to support the infrastructure rebuilding generously.

The possibility of promoting a kind of soft partition is worth considering as well. It appears more plausible since the recent discovery of huge deposits of oil and natural gas in the Anbar Desert (20 miles from Syria). That’s Sunni territory which, before now, had little access to existing oil and natural gas deposits. Indeed, even without any governmental agreement to partition, a natural segregation of the three groups into their own “strongholds” exists and is being solidified by governments at the provincial (roughly comparable to our “state”) level.

Six months ago it would have seemed foolish to consider any agreement being arrived at by Congress and the President. But today (July, 2007) it appears that over the next several months it will be plausible if not probable.
President Bush’s “surge” has brought mixed results so far and the pressure to demonstrate the efficacy of the strategy is mounting steadily. Bending to that pressure, the President has stated that General Petraeus will report to him and to the nation next September on exactly what he believes has been achieved by the “surge”, what the prospects are for further achievement, how long it might take to arrive at a level of stability that would justify withdrawal of troops, how many soldiers we will have to leave behind and how much all of that will cost – in lives and dollars.

The President’s volunteering to demand that kind of disclosure suggests he is prepared to be influenced by the report – perhaps especially if it fails to justify continuance of the surge. The fact that the President suddenly appointed another military leader, Lt. General Douglas Lute, who promptly suggested withdrawal of troops, certainly suggests that the President is indeed prepared to change directions. It’s hard to believe that the surge will prove to be achieving what more than four years and 160,000 troops have failed to accomplish and it seems clearer and clearer that President Bush knows that and is preparing to make fundamental changes in his policy before the 2008 elections. He has already made it clear that, at the very least, he will substantially cut the number of troops in Iraq, if there is no significant turnaround in Iraq by the fall.

Democrats in Congress, of course, are pleased with the prospect of a useful, comprehensive report in September. An increasing number of Republicans are as well, because as Bush’s polls continue to sink their prospects for regaining control of Congress or even keeping the number of seats they currently hold and retaining the Presidency, diminish significantly. That puts still more pressure on President Bush to reconsider his commitment to “staying the course” because it’s possible that unless the President changes direction in Iraq, he will be memorialized as the Republican President who brought the Republican Party to the lowest level of prestige and power in its modern history. That, added to the other pathetically failed efforts which will be part of his legacy, may be the straw that breaks the back of his painful obstinacy.

The President has nearly two years to improve his legacy. Coming to an agreement with Congress joined in by his Republican allies and the Democratic majorities, which would bring most of our troops back from Iraq and free up forces and resources for the real war on terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond, would not undo the terrible damage that has been done, but at least it would end most of the loss of life and reduce the crippling of more of our young men and women.

What about the war against terrorism after we leave Iraq?
Today fanatical jihadists are scattered throughout the Middle East and far beyond, sprinkled among the millions of human beings around them–and hidden by them.

They are a significant but small part of the world’s one billion or more Muslims, most of whom deplore jihadist fanaticism and their destructive terrorist tactics. The Jihadists do not wear uniforms nor respond to a single leader. They can be found frequently in poverty afflicted areas of the Middle East that lack political and economic opportunity for their citizens, but also in Great Britain, throughout Europe, Africa, India, Indonesia, the USA and Canada. Recently it became clear that Al Qaeda has strengthened its position in Northeast Afghanistan and even in the adjacent part of Pakistan. General Tommy Franks, had told Senator Bob Graham it would be a mistake for the President to withdraw troops from Afghanistan to help attack Iraq. Now it’s clear how wrong the President really was and how right Franks was. The terrorist threat in Afghanistan and beyond is as great or greater than it was before 9/11. We have improved our tactics but the terrorists have improved theirs at least as much: that was demonstrated every time Hezbollah sent a rocket deeper into Israel in the “War of 2006” and in Iraq as well.

There are many things we need to do in this struggle and allies can help us with all of them – starting with one of our greatest needs – more and better intelligence. As pointed out by the 9/11 Commission, we must identify terrorist sanctuaries and have strategies to deal with them using all our national power and the help of allies. Afghanistan will continue to require the presence and leadership of our military forces for the time being, possibly with more troops. In the broader struggle against terrorist ideology, collaboration with our allies and negotiation with our enemies when appropriate, are vital. In this regard the beginning of talks between Iranian and American diplomats is a faint but positive sign of possible progress.

At the same time we must work to win the support of the more than 90% of world Muslims against the relatively small number of jihadists that stigmatize them. We also need to discourage the Saudi Arabians and others from supporting madrassas which teach eager, vulnerable Muslim youths to hate the western “infidels.” It’s not clear why we have not made that effort already. If the Saudis will not or cannot stop financing the madrassas, we should find resources to offer Muslim youths competing educational opportunities that might draw them away from jihadism and to a more benign philosophy.

And we must join with our allies in fighting the economic oppression that makes millions of Muslims vulnerable to seduction by terrorists. President Bush’s “Millennium Challenge” and “Arab Partnership” programs should have been fully funded: they never were.

In short, we need to help create a new vision for the region that promotes peaceful coexistence encouraged by a well functioning economy that allows people to earn a good life for themselves and their families. This will take a combination of military force, intelligence, police power, government programs, economic development support to commerce, investments, education, trade, strategic communications to deal with jihadist terrorism… not precipitous, preemptory, poorly prepared, rash and pointless “wars” like the attack on Iraq! At the moment we are further from peace in the Middle East and closer to a significantly larger war than we have been in decades. The plight of the Palestinians and the Israelis make that clearer perhaps the most distressing aspect of the recent conflict in Lebanon was that the basic rationale of Hezbollah was not grievances concerning the bombing by Israel in response to the seizure by Hezbollah of Israeli soldiers; it was much more fundamental and difficult to deal with. The Hezbollah rationale was – and remains - “Israel has no right to exist as a nation on any of the lands it now occupies and must, therefore, be destroyed.” As long as the Hezbollah and much of the rest of the Arab world insist on that radical rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, no plan for peace is plausible.

It is disheartening to note that few of the leading candidates for President appear willing to speak candidly, specifically and comprehensively about Israel and Palestine. That’s harmful to an already desperate situation. We must find a way to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians no matter how difficult it may be: it is clearly a subject that promotes anger among the Arab, Muslim and Israeli population. It must begin by getting some of the Arab nations to join the United States in announcing that their earlier promise to accept Israel’s legitimacy as a starting point to discussions remains in place. Then we must renew the attempt to find a “two-state” solution with a place for the Palestinians that promises them security, opportunity and dignity, side by side with the Israelis. The fact that we have failed to be able to do this for nearly 60 years makes it a daunting challenge, but the fact that the chance of the entire Middle East exploding into a larger and more terrible war is greater than ever, should be all the incentive we need, to try again...especially since there have been no meaningful peace talks promoted by us for more than six years.

With respect to Iran, history shows us that war with Iran is not unavoidable. Tom Friedman of the New York Times has reminded us how we have worked together with Iran in significant joint efforts in the recent past. God forbid we should make the same kind of tragic mistake with Iran that we did with Iraq. We should enforce sanctions more assertively than we have so far. If we could get all our allies to cease doing business with Iran – we could render them bankrupt, so there is more muscle in our sanctions than we so far have used. Blockades may also be useful.

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Posted at 7:47 AM, Sep 15, 2007 in Foreign Policy
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