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Iraq: The Elephant in the Room

No other single problem is as crippling to this country right now as the war in Iraq. Our ongoing troop presence is preventing a real Iraqi reconciliation.
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Earlier this week, I was unable to attend NPR's Democratic forum in Iowa because I was attending a funeral. When I read the transcript, however, I was shocked that there was almost no real discussion of the single most important issue facing our county: Iraq.

No other single problem is as crippling to this country right now as the war in Iraq. Our ongoing troop presence is preventing a real Iraqi reconciliation. Maintaining 170,000 troops in Iraq not only stretches our military to the breaking point, it keeps us from having the troops available to deal with other emerging crises -- whether it is peace keeping or disaster response.

We are spending upwards of $10 billion dollars a month in Iraq.

It is folly to believe we can continue on this path and conduct the necessary overhauls to children's insurance, health care, and our schools. It will be almost impossible to deal with global warming and lead the world in a new energy revolution while weighed down by the financial and diplomatic costs of the on-going war in Iraq.

Unfortunately, my fellow candidates seem content with leaving the issue behind. Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards still mention ending the war - but will not unequivocally commit to getting all troops out quickly (and lets be clear - all troops includes non-combat troops, combat strike teams, or any other spin-variation of "troops" falling under our military command in Iraq).

And they will not commit to getting all of the troops out by 2013. 2013 is six more years of war. Six more years of having our hands tied economically and our foreign policy crippled by a war that should have been ended THIS year.

Six more years is too long to wait. Our new website lays it out clearly: waiting for 2013 is unacceptable - the cost is just too high.

We cannot let cynicism get the best of us - even though the Congressional leadership have not done what we elected them to do and ended this war. We cannot give up. And we cannot give in to misleading media and White House spin that trumpets "the surge is working."

It isn't. The conventional wisdom, that after just a few months of declining casualty rates, victory is around the corner is rosy-eyed nonsense. If you listen to Washington insiders, we've turned that corner again and again - so many times we may just be walking in circles.

Casualties have fallen three months in a row on nine previous occasions during the 5 years we've been in Iraq - nine times. Each time we've been fed the same lines: "Mission Accomplished," "Dead Ender," "Last Throes." On each of those nine occasions, however, casualties have risen back to newer more tragic levels.

I'm not sure who decided what number of American troop deaths is an "acceptable" cost to buy a declaration of "victory," but last month 37 American troops died. After nearly five years of war, the only "acceptable" number of deaths is zero.

I hope Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Obama have not forgotten what we all know: there is no military solution in Iraq, and as long as our troops are there we will have no political solution either. If they remembered this, they could not in good conscience duck a commitment to get our troops out by 2013.

2013 is too long to wait to do the ONE thing that will work in Iraq: getting all of our troops out quickly, leaving no residual troops behind.

Only one thing will bring long-term stability in Iraq: political progress. The stated purpose of the surge was to give Iraqi politicians the breathing room to take the necessary steps towards real reconciliation. That has not happened - and those on the ground know it. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, last month flatly declared "There will be no reconciliation . . .this is a struggle about power," and Iraq's Vice President (and most important Sunni politician) recently echoed that with "there has been no significant progress in months."

Political progress is impossible as long as our troops are on the ground, making the status-quo possible for Iraqi politicians and leading Iraqi citizens to doubt whether we'll ever leave. There is no military solution to this problem, so our military should not be there.

In fact, the only real progress we've seen in Iraq in the recent months happened in Basra, where the removal of the British garrison has brought about a 90% decrease in violence. No occupying forces equaled less violence, and zero coalition casualties. This is the kind of change we need to see across Iraq to create the landscape for real political progress.

There is a clear answer -- to truly reduce violence and to force Iraqis to find their own political solution, we must begin immediately to withdraw all of our forces - all of them, without any residual troops left behind. There is no military solution in Iraq, and there will be no political solution while our military remains there.

Leaving troops in Iraq until 2013 is not an option - not if we want to end this war, not if we want to move forward and begin addressing problems here at home.

Ignoring this issue won't change those facts.

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