“Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.” –Texas Governor George W. Bush, April 9, 1999, on the US intervention in Kosovo
Thirty months into the Iraq War, and nearly 2,000 American deaths later, Republican leaders in Congress have yet to hold hearings on how or when to bring US troops home. So dissenting Democrats, led by California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, crammed into a small room in a House office building Thursday to hold an unofficial hearing on an exit strategy for Iraq.
TV cameras rolled in the back, Congressional staffers lined the walls, media vied for two dozen available seats and roughly thirty lawmakers shuffled in and out to listen or ask questions between votes. “I had hoped that today’s discussion would take place under the auspices of the House Armed Services Committee or the House International Relations Committee,” Woolsey said at the outset. “But there has been very little appetite among the Congressional leadership for open discussion about how we might end the war in Iraq.” That goes for both the Republican and Democratic leadership, neither of which attended.
Woolsey modeled the day after unofficial hearings held by Representative John Conyers in June into the so-called Downing Street memos. The panel assembled included retired Gen. Joseph Hoar, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Mack, former Senator Max Cleland, Harvard University conflict-resolution specialist Antonia Chayes, Ken Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, and Iraqi-American peace activist Anas Shallal.
“Success as defined by our civilian leadership three years ago is out of reach,” testified General Hoar, who headed US Central Command from 1991 to 1994. “This counterinsurgency campaign, this budding civil war, is all about politics, ideas and religion. It cannot be won by killing Iraqis. Were this possible, the over 25,000 Iraqis killed already might have been enough.” Hoar called for a high-level international envoy to help straighten out the fragile Iraqi political process, a recommendation endorsed by many of the panelists.
The hearings came a day after an especially grisly moment in Iraq, where at least a dozen attacks killed more than 160 people in Baghdad, the deadliest strike in the capital since the US invasion in March 2003. Twenty more people died Thursday morning. “Iraq is not stable and it is not stabilizing,” said Katzman.
The hearings also came in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, with significant numbers of the National Guard of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama deployed in Iraq. “It is time we looked after our own backyard,” said Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. “We cannot do this as long as we continue to make Iraq the fifty-first state.”