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9.22.2004

Kerry blasts Bush's handling of Iraq but provides non-solutions 

From the horse's mouth:


We need to turn the page and make a fresh start in Iraq.

First, the President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don’t have to go it alone. It is late; the President must respond by moving this week to gain and regain international support.

Last spring, after too many months of resistance and delay, the President finally went back to the U.N. which passed Resolution 1546. It was the right thing to do – but it was late.

That resolution calls on U.N. members to help in Iraq by providing troops… trainers for Iraq’s security forces… a special brigade to protect the U.N. mission… more financial assistance… and real debt relief.

Three months later, not a single country has answered that call. And the president acts as if it doesn’t matter.

And of the $13 billion previously pledged to Iraq by other countries, only $1.2 billion has been delivered.

The President should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major powers and Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly. He should insist that they make good on that U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific, but critical roles, in training Iraqi security personnel and securing Iraq’s borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process.

This will be difficult. I and others have repeatedly recommended this from the very beginning. Delay has made only made it harder. After insulting allies and shredding alliances, this President may not have the trust and confidence to bring others to our side in Iraq. But we cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us. That is the only way to succeed.



For those of you keeping score at home, nobody besides the UK, Australia, Poland and a few other countries really seems to care whether Iraq becomes a democracy (however tenuous) or whether Iraq plunges into civil war or whether Iraq becomes a theocratic tyranny.



Second, the President must get serious about training Iraqi security forces.

Last February, Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that more than 210,000 Iraqis were in uniform. Two weeks ago, he admitted that claim was exaggerated by more than 50 percent. Iraq, he said, now has 95,000 trained security forces.

But guess what? Neither number bears any relationship to the truth. For example, just 5,000 Iraqi soldiers have been fully trained, by the administration’s own minimal standards. And of the 35,000 police now in uniform, not one has completed a 24-week field-training program. Is it any wonder that Iraqi security forces can’t stop the insurgency or provide basic law and order?

The President should urgently expand the security forces training program inside and outside Iraq. He should strengthen the vetting of recruits, double classroom training time, and require follow-on field training. He should recruit thousands of qualified trainers from our allies, especially those who have no troops in Iraq. He should press our NATO allies to open training centers in their countries. And he should stop misleading the American people with phony, inflated numbers.



Again, this part of the plan hinges on other countries' willingness to help out.



Third, the President must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people.

Last week, the administration admitted that its plan was a failure when it asked Congress for permission to radically revise spending priorities in Iraq. It took 17 months for them to understand that security is a priority … 17 months to figure out that boosting oil production is critical … 17 months to conclude that an Iraqi with a job is less likely to shoot at our soldiers.

One year ago, the administration asked for and received $18 billion to help the Iraqis and relieve the conditions that contribute to the insurgency. Today, less than a $1 billion of those funds have actually been spent. I said at the time that we had to rethink our policies and set standards of accountability. Now we’re paying the price.

Now, the President should look at the whole reconstruction package…draw up a list of high visibility, quick impact projects… and cut through the red tape. He should use more Iraqi contractors and workers, instead of big corporations like Halliburton. He should stop paying companies under investigation for fraud or corruption. And he should fire the civilians in the Pentagon responsible for mismanaging the reconstruction effort.



I agree that putting so much of the reconstruction in the hands of American workers and not providing enough forces to keep these efforts secure has been a bad idea. No doubt the general state of Iraqi civilian infrastructure and the high rate of unemployment have led to widespread frustration among Iraqis and given people a reason to support the insurgency.

However, it's also worth noting that employing Iraqis in the reconstruction isn't going to make the terrorists go away. The terrorists have bombed random Iraqi civilians, and they have killed Iraqi police for the crime of supporting the Americans. No reason to think they won't target Iraqi reconstruction workers, as long as America maintains any sort of presence (economic, military or political) in Iraq.



Fourth, the President must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year.

Credible elections are key to producing an Iraqi government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people and an assembly to write a Constitution that yields a viable power sharing arrangement.

Because Iraqis have no experience holding free and fair elections, the President agreed six months ago that the U.N. must play a central role. Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the U.N. Secretary General and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt. Because the security situation is so bad… and because not a single country has offered troops to protect the U.N. elections mission… the U.N. has less than 25 percent of the staff it needs in Iraq to get the job done.

The President should recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force. This won’t be easy. But even countries that refused to put boots on the ground in Iraq should still help protect the U.N. We should also intensify the training of Iraqis to manage and guard the polling places that need to be opened. Otherwise, U.S forces would end up bearing those burdens alone.



Again, Kerry's waiting for a UN bailout that isn't coming anytime soon.



If the President would move in this direction … if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces … train the Iraqis to provide their own security …develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people … and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year … we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years.



So what happens when the UN member nations decide not to send troops to Iraq? Do we withdraw troops anyway and leave Iraq twisting in the wind, or do we expand our own efforts in Iraq? (In case anyone cares, I'm 25 and I'm finishing school in a couple months. You know what that means.) I'd love for somebody to ask him this question in one of the Presidential debates. Maybe we'll find out if he's really more concerned about saving Iraq or about crafting an exit strategy.

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