Disgracing America, failing Iraq

Sen. Edward Kennedy: Bush's lies have undermined America's prestige and credibility around the world.

By Salon Staff
Published July 17, 2003 8:30PM (EDT)

Thank you, Dean Einhorn, for that gracious introduction.

I'm honored to be back with you at SAIS (SYSS) -- which has given so much insight and so many leaders to the foreign policy of this nation -- and others around the globe.

Last fall, I came here to reaffirm my conviction that 9/11 had not nullified the long-standing basic principle that war should be the last resort, and to argue the case that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until all other reasonable alternatives had been exhausted. Then -- as now -- I believed that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was not serious enough or imminent enough to justify a rush to war, and that we were going to war under false pretenses. Then -- as now -- I believed that war would distract from our broader war against terrorism and that we should not go to war with Iraq without the clear support of the international community. Then -- as now -- I believed that without a systematic re-examination, with dubious and even false rationalization, and without the informed consent of the American people, the Bush Administration was changing our long-standing foreign policy on preventive war to permit a pre-conceived determination to invade Iraq.

Supporters and opponents of the war alike were enormously proud of the way our troops performed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The speed and success of their mission demonstrated the outstanding strength of the nation's armed forces. As a citizen of Massachusetts and a member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, it never ceases to amaze me how far we have come in the two centuries since the embattled farmers at Concord Bridge fired the shot heard around the world.

In the past decade alone, technology has put vast changes in warfare on fast-forward. We redefined the nature of modern warfare in the Persian Gulf War, we redefined it again in Afghanistan, and yet again in Iraq. We have by far the world's best military on the ground, on the sea, and in the air. It is no accident that so few paid the ultimate sacrifice during those three tumultuous weeks in March and April in Iraq.

It was a foregone conclusion that we would win the war. But pride goes before a fall, and the all-important question now is whether we can win the peace. In fact, we are at serious risk of losing it.

Our policy toward Iraq is adrift. Each day, our troops and their families are paying the price. Our clear national interest in the emergence of a peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq is being undermined.

On May 1, President Bush announced aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln that the United States and our allies had prevailed and that "major combat operations" in Iraq had ended. Not exactly. American troops in Iraq are now serving as police officers in a shooting gallery. In recent weeks, they've been subjected to 10 to 25 violent attacks a day by hostile fighters or forces.

In the 76 days that have passed since the President spoke, 81 more American troops have died. For the men and women of our armed forces who are dodging bullets in the streets and alleys of Baghdad, and other parts of Iraq, the battle is far from over. President Bush says of the attackers, "Bring 'em on." But how do you console a family by telling them that their son or daughter is a casualty of the post-war period?

The debate may go on for many months or even years about our intelligence failures before the war began. As we now know, despite the claim made in the State of the Union Address, Saddam was not purchasing uranium from Africa to build nuclear weapons.

Despite all the intelligence we were shown in the months leading up to war, despite the additional intelligence they said was there but could not be shared, we have yet to uncover any evidence that Iraq was stockpiling chemical or biological weapons. There was and is no evidence that Saddam was conspiring with al-Qaida. What was the imminent threat to the United States that required us to launch a preventive war in Iraq with very little international support? What was the imminent threat to the United States? It's a disgrace that the case for war seems to have been based on shoddy intelligence, hyped intelligence, and even false intelligence. All the evidence points to the conclusion that they put a spin on the intelligence and a spin on the truth. They have undermined America's prestige and credibility in the world -- and undermined the trust that Americans should and must have in what their nation tells them. How many will doubt a future claim of danger even if it is real?

The failures of intelligence were bad enough. But the real failure of intelligence was our failure to understand Iraq.

There is no question that long before the war began, a serious issue was raised about the danger of winning the war and losing the peace. In fact, it was one of the principal arguments against going to war.

Before the war began, 11 separate agencies of the United States government worked with 280 Iraqi citizens in the State Department's so-called "Future of Iraq" working groups.

In numerous briefings, Pentagon officials assured us on the Senate Armed Services Committee that firm plans were in place to secure and rebuild Iraq. But the reality is that the administration had paper, but not a real plan -- and precious little paper at that. We knew the post-war rebuilding of Iraq would be enormously difficult. Based on our experience in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and Afghanistan, we knew security could be a profound problem, and that there would be challenges from a restless population. We knew that building a national police force and a credible judicial system would be enormously complicated tasks. These are not new issues. But rather than learning lessons from the experiences in these four conflicts, the administration was blinded by its own ideological bravado. It rushed ahead without planning for contingencies or raising even basic questions about likely events.

The foundation of our post-war policy was built on a quicksand of false assumptions, and the result has been chaos for the Iraqi people, and continuing mortal danger for our troops. The truth, as my colleague Senator John Kerry starkly stated last week, is clearer with each passing day and each new casualty: "The administration went to war without a thorough plan to win the peace."

The Pentagon assumed that we would be able to draw on thousands of Saddam's police force to protect security -- but in the critical early weeks that followed the war, they were nowhere to be found, and too many of their officers turned out to be thugs and torturers.

The Pentagon assumed that the bulk of the Iraqi Armed Forces could be used to supplement our forces -- but those soldiers did not join us.

The Pentagon assumed that some Iraqi exile leaders could return to Iraq to rally the population and lead the new government -- but they were resented by the Iraqi people and the exiles were put on hold.

The Pentagon assumed that after a few hundred of Saddam's top advisers were removed from power, large numbers of local officials would remain to run the government -- but the government crumbled.

The Pentagon assumed that Americans would be welcomed as liberators -- but for some Iraqis we went from liberators to occupiers in a few short weeks. The dancing in the streets of some after the fall of the statue of Saddam was accompanied by an orgy of massive looting and chaos and was followed by growing frustration even from those who first saw us as liberators.

There was egg on the face of the Administration and its peace plan from Day One. Plan A was so obviously the wrong plan that General Garner, the man sent to oversee it, was abruptly replaced on Day 21, and Paul Bremer was rushed in to make up Plan B as he went along.

Today, Paul Bremer rules the country from Saddam's palace, while the Iraqi people sit in the dark without adequate water or electricity.

Hospital equipment and medical supplies have been stolen. Power grids in major cities are being sabotaged.

Cynicism and anger toward America is growing. Many Iraqis believe that we are unwilling -- rather than unable -- to restore basic services. They are losing faith and trust in our promise of a reconstructed, stable, democratic future. They fear that Saddam may still be alive.

Under fire from guerrillas determined to see America fail, our soldiers are now performing police functions for which they have little training. They are building schools and hospitals -- a task for which they are ill prepared. We are straining their endurance, and they want to know how long they will need to stay in Iraq.

That America would be seen as occupier should have come as no surprise. Former Secretary of State James Baker wrote in The New York Times last August, "If we are to change the regime in Iraq, we will have to occupy the country militarily."

Retired four-star Marine Corps General and former Central Command Commander Anthony Zinni said last August that we would "inherit the country of Iraq" and "put soldiers that are already stretched so thin all around the world ... into a security force there forever."

James Webb, an Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, warned last September that we could occupy Iraq "for the next 30 to 50 years."

We knew -- or should have known -- that if we went into this without the genuine support of the international community, there would be no easy way out. As James Webb also warned, "Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay."

The White House is only just beginning to face the truth. On July 3, President Bush finally agreed that rebuilding Iraq would be a "massive and long-term undertaking."

But that undertaking cannot be sustained -- and no foreign policy in this free society can succeed -- unless it is supported by our people. With the Administration's credibility frayed, and distrust rising here at home, it is time for President Bush to level with America. It is time for him to hear and heed the words of the great World War II general and great post-war Secretary of State George Marshall in his historic commencement address at Harvard in 1947: "An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied."

The Marshall Plan proposed in that address became one of the great achievements of the 20th century. It succeeded because it involved a coordinated effort by the United States and many nations of Europe to advance the recovery of the continent after the war, and Marshall won the Nobel Peace Prize. Is it too much to ask that we now be guided by that example?

President Bush should face the truth and level with the American people about the cost of stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq -- both financial and human. We need a plan -- a real plan, to which we are truly committed -- to share the burden with the international community, with old allies who can be enlisted if we will only stop trying to get back at them for daring to disagree with us.

Our troops are now sent overseas for longer stretches than ever -- because we rely on their skill and talents to meet commitments on a global scale. More than 150,000 of our troops are in Iraq, and many have been deployed in the region for close to a year. Half of our Army divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of 33 Army combat brigades, 18 are in Iraq.

The strain is also great for citizens serving in the Guard and Reserves because we must depend upon them with greater frequency, ever since we reduced our forces after the Cold War.

More than 150,000 Guard and Reserve soldiers have been mobilized. 13,000 have been on active duty for at least a year. Others return home from deployments, only to be turned around and sent overseas for another tour. In fact, today our reservists are spending 13 times longer in active duty than they did a decade ago, forced to put their lives on hold, missing births of their children, dealing with family crises by phone and e-mail.

Open-ended missions are a serious strain on our forces and their families. It is difficult to continue to run them through the deployment grinder year after year and expect them to hold up indefinitely.

It is also difficult to sustain the cost of such missions. We are now spending $3.9 billion a month in Iraq. With the ongoing cost of the war on terrorism, our operations in Afghanistan, and our potential new responsibilities around the globe, in places such as West Africa, let alone Iran and North Korea, we are creating an unsustainable financial burden at a time of exploding budget deficits and soaring demands for homeland security, and mounting needs for healthcare, education, and other domestic priorities.

Despite the escalating cost of the military operation in Iraq, not one cent of its cost is included in the defense-spending legislation being considered this very week in the Senate. Not one penny. How will we pay the bill? To this question, there is only resounding silence at the White House, another refusal to face the truth and level with the American people.

As a nation with honor, responsibility, and the vision of a better world for the oppressed, America cannot invade and then cut and run from Iraq. But we also can't afford the continuing cost -- in dollars or in blood -- of stubbornly continuing to go it alone. If our national security is at stake, we will spare no cost. But we have options here that reach beyond the checkbook of the American people.

Working with the international community, we can develop and implement an effective strategy to change a failed course, reduce the burden and risk to our soldiers, stabilize Iraq, and deliver on the promise of a better future for the Iraqi people.

As we all know, a number of countries supported our military action against Saddam Hussein. Many others did not. But if the administration is willing to put the national interest ahead of its own ideological pride, I believe that we can secure broad international support and participation in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. After all, so much is clearly at stake for the rest of the world.

At issue are the stability and the future of the entire highly volatile region. None would be immune from the dangers that a disunited and disorganized Iraq could present for its neighbors and for nations everywhere.

These are not just American or British concerns. They are true international concerns. We need to take the chip off our shoulder, mend fences with France and with Germany, and stop the divisiveness. America cannot be effective in its mission in Iraq if old wounds don't heal and bitterness continues to fester.

As we seek to stabilize and democratize Iraq, we do not need to go it alone and should not try to. If we diversify the faces of the security force, it is far less likely that Iraqis will see us as the enemy, oppressor, and occupier. We want the 25 million citizens of Iraq to see these forces that are there as friends and partners in their pursuit of freedom.

We need to bring regional forces -- especially Muslim ones -- into Iraq. Countries like Jordan, Pakistan, and Egypt could immensely transform this mission with both their diversity and their expertise. The United Arab Emirates have contributed to the effort in Kosovo. Morocco and Albania and Turkey have worked with us in Bosnia. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Spain could provide well-trained police.

Reaching out to other countries and bringing them into the post-war process is the surest path to a stable Iraq. But most other nations are unlikely to send troops to serve in what is perceived as an American occupation. They will be more likely to do their part as part of an international mission sanctioned by the United Nations and organized by NATO.

Secretary Rumsfeld insists that we are reaching out to the international community and that we are working with NATO. But the Secretary General of NATO, Lord Robertson, says that the alliance as an institution has never been asked to play the formal role in Iraq that it plays in Bosnia and Kosovo, and soon will play in Afghanistan. Nor has the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, been asked to seek international consent for a truly multilateral force. The United States insists on a coalition of the few, dominated and controlled by our nation.

Instead of asking our armed forces to carry out a mission for which they are not trained and to do so alone, we need to rely on the expertise and resources of the international community. The United Nations has assumed that responsibility in other countries in the past. It is one of the major reasons why the U.N. was created -- to bring international vision and strength to the difficult issues of peace keeping and nation building after World War II. Necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of Iraq, President Bush has at last been persuaded to abandon his strong opposition to nation-building. The challenge now is to persuade him to move beyond unilateral nation-building.

The new Iraqi council announced on Sunday was a step in the right direction. But it would have been much more effective if the U.N. Special Representative -- and not the U.S. government -- was seen sponsoring its creation.

If America alone sets up a new government in Baghdad, it may fail -- if not now, later; if not while our forces are there, as soon as they are gone. Those who join such a government run the risk of being dismissed by the Iraqi people as an American puppet. And for as long as America alone is calling the tune, Iraqi moderates may remain in the background, and possibly even oppose us.

Our interests in the emergence of a true democracy in Iraq are best fulfilled by involving the world community and especially other Arab nations as partners in helping the Iraqis themselves shape a new Iraq. Only then will a new Iraqi government be viewed as legitimate by the Iraqi people.

So it is time for the Administration to stop giving lip service to international participation and start genuinely seeking and accepting it -- on reasonable terms, and with a real commitment to it. President Bush's meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at the White House yesterday should be the beginning of a renewed relationship and a shift in attitude at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue about the rightness and the practical imperative of multilateralism.

The U.N. has a mandate for humanitarian issues. But it has only an advisory role in the civil administration of Iraq. That has to change. The U.N. should have a formal role in overseeing the establishment of a political process. The U.N. -- rather than the United States and Britain -- should preside over the evolution of the new Iraqi government. Doing so will win international legitimacy and marshal international support for this challenge, minimizing the danger that Iraqis will regard their government as a puppet of ours.

With Arab-speaking spokesmen, the U.N. could also convey a different image and a different message to the people of that country. The message would provide a sense of reassurance that an overwhelmingly American occupation never can.

NATO -- as an institution -- should clearly be in Iraq as well. Military experts believe it will take at least 200,000 troops to stabilize Iraq. Therefore, our goal should be to include NATO and its 2-million-member pool of armed forces in military operations as soon as possible. America would provide a majority of the troops, but over time the overall number of forces would decrease.

As in Kosovo and Bosnia, we should ask the United Nations Security Council to authorize NATO to organize an international security force to demilitarize and stabilize Iraq. Doing so does not mean that the United States should or must relinquish all military control. On the contrary, we would have a significant role in the NATO force, and could continue to have the defining role in Iraq. An American commander was in charge of American troops in Bosnia, and the head of NATO forces in Europe is -- and always will be -- an American.

Secretary Rumsfeld told the Armed Services Committee last week that except for the area around Baghdad, most of Iraq is already secure. If that is so -- and we have to hope this estimate is more accurate than others we have heard -- then why not reduce the burden on our military and decide that this large area of Iraq -- which needs police forces as well as combat troops -- should be turned over as soon as possible to a United Nations approved and NATO-led force? Why not allow American and coalition forces to secure the area around Baghdad, and allow other nations to provide security for the rest of Iraq?

Our government should also look beyond the immediate issue of Iraq and assign one agency with the responsibility for any future post-conflict planning. The last decade -- with conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq -- has demonstrated the clear need not just to win a war but to win the peace. We cannot reinvent the wheel each time a crisis comes, or else the terrorists will win.

Finally, as long as Iraq continues to dominate our attention, we cannot give other aspects of the war against terrorism the focus they deserve.

Has the American occupation of Iraq defeated Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida?


Has it increased our security against the continuing al-Qaida threats in Afghanistan and other terrorist sanctuaries?


Has our action in Iraq led Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida to lay aside their sworn purpose of killing Americans and destroying our way of life?


It is not just what happens in Iraq itself, as important as that issue is, but the continuing urgency of the ongoing fight against terrorism that should compel this administration to enlist our allies in an international plan to put Iraq back on track. Otherwise, we run the grave risk of exposing our nation to more terrorist attacks.

America won the war in Iraq, as we knew we would, but if our present policy continues, we may lose the peace. We must rise to the challenge of international cooperation. Saddam Hussein may no longer be in power, but the people of Iraq will not truly be liberated until they live in a secure country. And the war will not be over, no matter what is said on the deck of an aircraft carrier, until the fighting stops on the ground, democracy takes hold and the people of Iraq are able to govern themselves.

Salon Staff

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