Powell: Iraq policy must change
ASPEN ” President Bush could be forced to drastically alter his Iraq policy by the end of 2007, former U.S. secretary of sate Colin Powell told an audience Thursday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
If the violence isn’t eased between the majority Shiite and minority Sunni Muslims, and the Iraq government cannot effectively oversee the country, then the U.S. must reduce troops levels, Powell said.
Political pressure will force the president to “face the situation on the ground” and acknowledge that conditions aren’t what he would like them to be, Powell said to the standing-room-only crowd.
Powell said he supported the president’s decision to send troops to Iraq as the only sure way to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He said Saddam had the ability and intent to develop and use weapons of mass destruction.
But Powell stressed that the Bush Administration’s policy has been largely flawed since Baghdad fell and Saddam’s regime was toppled April 9, 2003.
The Bush administration wasn’t properly prepared to occupy an Arab country with its deep-seeded and ancient animosities among its people. “It was the lack of planning for these later phases and the things that got out of control that got us to this point,” he said.
Clearly, support for an on-going U.S. military presence in Iraq at current levels doesn’t exist, Powell said. He pointed to the sweeping Democratic victory in November’s election, the president’s dismal approval ratings and recent calls by key Republican senators to change the Iraq policy as evidence that support has waned.
Politics aside, the volunteer army cannot maintain the existing presence in Iraq, said Powell, a retired four-star general who also served as chief of the joint chiefs of staff.
Even with 100,000 additional troops, it would be tough to continue its present mission in Iraq. “You can’t sit there forever on the lid of this sectarian stew,” he said.
But he warned that a change in policy will require great care. The U.S. cannot “blow a whistle one morning and [have] all 180,000 American forces just leave,” Powell said.
He painted a bleak picture of what could be next for the troubled country. A civil could become a “a test of arms” that “isn’t pretty,” he said. There’s always a threat the violence could spill to other countries in the Middle East.
He advocated maintaining a smaller U.S. force in Iraq and intense diplomatic efforts.
“I think we should be talking to Syria and Iran,” Powell said. “You have to talk to people you dislike most in this dangerous world.”
Powell’s assessment of Iraq followed a panel discussion on Iraq policy earlier in the day among U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein; retired Gen. Jack Keane; and former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group.
Feinstein, D-Calif., said Congressional support for the war in Iraq might fail before year’s end. She drew loud applause from the audience when she noted the troops that are dying are so young and declared, “The time has come for us to challenge the mission.”
Keane said progress is being made in Iraq that isn’t getting reported. Sectarian violence is on the decline, he said, and support for al-Qaida is drying up. Keane visited Iraq in February and May this year and found improved conditions, such as schools and markets opened.
“Progress was relative to what it was before,” he said. The former general also admitted the mission was “wrong” for 3 1/2 years after the fall of Baghdad.
Keane insisted that 2007 will be regarded as a “turning point” if funding for the troops is extended.
Hamilton said the military and political timelines are at odds. The military seeks an extension but the politicians have reached the end.
Hamilton proposed a centrist position that attempts to salvage the situation in Iraq. He wants the Iraq government to improve its performance by getting Iraq military forces more effectively trained to take more responsibility and ease pressure on U.S. forces.
He also wants increased diplomatic efforts in the entire region.
“I do not agree with people who say it’s too late in Iraq,” Hamilton said.