Call me Don Quijote, but we may have a chance to get US policy towards Iran and Iraq back into the realm of sanity despite the Bush Administrations’ suicidal tendencies. I base this in part on the results of briefing on consecutive days this week two very diverse groups of members of Congress. I will not tell you whether they were Senators or Representatives or both. Nor will I divulge the full details of our closed door discussions. (And, I did not get paid anything nor am I asking any member of Congress to do anything other than act in the best interest of the people of the United States).
Wednesday night I participated in the briefing of 14 members of Congress, a majority of whom would be labeled as liberal Democrats by most Republicans (but a couple of classy Republicans did attend that session). The following day I briefed 12 Republican legislators, who by Democratic standards, are considered libertarian to ultra conservative. The topic was the same – Is War with Iran Inevitable and What are our Options?
I was encouraged on several fronts. First, I got to brief two members who are vying for their respective party’s presidential nomination. Second, there appears to be an emerging consensus among Republicans and Democrats – who, under most circumstances, are at each others throats – that we need to find a way to protect the strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East without going to war with Iran and while extricating our troops from the civil war in Iraq.
In the usual Larry Johnson fashion I spoke directly about my analysis of ongoing events in Iraq and Iran and discussed how events in one can and will influence events in the other. Some of the information I shared I cannot write on any blog, but I was able to share some key insights with the members that I believe they need to know and have a right to know. Both groups got the same information. If you cannot tell folks who sit on Intelligence Committees where to look for smoking guns who can you tell?
I did begin each briefing by noting that I think I’m the only registered Republican to give the Democratic Response to the President’s Saturday Radio address because of my relationship with Valerie Plame Wilson, a former colleague and longstanding friend. Members from both parties laughed, although a couple of the Republicans appeared to choke a bit. Both groups listened attentively. Both groups asked smart probing questions. And both groups recognize our country is in a pickle right now and something needs to be done to send a signal.
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Yesterday’s lopsided vote in the House, giving the President two months to provide details on a withdrawing US combat troops from Iraq is, in my view, evidence that the tide is turning and turning decisively.
There are some things the members of the Congress ought to do to put the necessary heat on the Administration to ensure that our nation’s security is protected.
First, a bipartisan delegation – comprised of Senators and Representatives – ought to travel soonest to Tehran and speak with senior government and religious figures. The message must be simple and direct. I believe we should communicate the following:
- The United States will take appropriate steps to punish any groups or states who back terrorist attacks against our interests.
- The United States wants a friendly relationship with Iran and wants to enlist Iran in helping quell the violence in Iraq.
- The United States will reward Iran with improved economic ties in exchange for concrete evidence that it will not pursue a nuclear weapon.
Third, we need to change our language in discussing what we should do and want to do in Iraq. The current debate is silly. Americans are presented with a stark choice of “Stay the Course” or “Cut and Run”. We need a mature, informed discussion. Like it or not we have strategic interests, starting with oil, in the Middle East. We are not going to run for helicopters and abandon Iraq for twenty years like it we did in Vietnam. We need to accept the following realities:
- We do not have a large enough military force in Iraq to separate the warring sides and impose a peace.
- We do not have the political will to institute a draft and train enough soldiers to achieve the force necessary to impose a peace so we need to stop kidding ourselves.
- We need to focus our efforts on employing U.S. Special Forces (i.e., the Green Berets) as longterm trainers for Iraqi military and police.
- We need to start over and insist that all newly trained units be fully integrated and include Shia and Sunni contingents.
- We need a diplomatic strategy to reduce the concern in the region that we are setting Iran up as the new king of the region.
- We must end unilateral military action in Iraq and allow Iraq assert its sovereignty. As long as Blackwater has more clout in the streets of Baghdad than any Iraqi police or military official, then the United States will be blamed for all violence and all that goes wrong.
And one final thought. I caught a glimpse of the bipartisan spirit. I can find issues where I will disagree with Republicans and with Democrats. But I did detect a genuine love for the ideal of America on both sides. It is that spirit we must recover and reignite. I realize that partisan nerves are raw. We need to try to do the impossible – find a way to reconcile as Americans as the campaign season heats up. We must find a way because the dangers ahead in both Iran and Iraq could grievously damage this nation if we fail to act intelligently.
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