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Congress Must Act On Iraq

By Tom Vilsack
Saturday, February 10, 2007

Think of the last time you were in a public place with 1,000 people -- a sports event, a Fourth of July parade, a concert.

Now imagine all 1,000 of those people dead.

If the number of American military deaths in Iraq in recent years is any guide, that's how many Americans will die in that country in the next year if Congress doesn't act immediately to take our troops out of harm's way in Iraq's civil war.

Now imagine the 5,000 more Americans likely to be wounded and maimed if Congress doesn't fulfill its duty to get our young men and women out of Iraq's war zone.

In each of the past three years, more than 820 American soldiers have been killed in the war. Given the increased violence this year, America is on pace to lose more than 1,000 soldiers in Iraq. Over 23,000 American soldiers have been wounded since the war began, nearly 6,000 each year. It is time for us to clearly say that our troops must be brought home now.

Military commanders in Iraq, the Iraq Study Group and the American people have all said the status quo is wrong. Further, the president's closest intelligence and military advisers state in the latest National Intelligence Estimate that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war and that the capacity of U.S. troops to influence the outcome is severely limited. This war will end only with a political solution -- not a military one.

Members of Congress have a constitutional and moral obligation to exercise their authority to stop funding President Bush's failed policy in Iraq. Not eventually, but immediately.

The war in Iraq and the president's mismanagement of our military resources have recklessly endangered our national security and depleted our military and National Guard units across America. By nearly every standard, the homeland security of our country has been weakened and compromised by the president's policies and a lack of congressional oversight.

It has been said that all our options in Iraq are bad, but some options are worse than others. Leaving American troops in harm's way while acknowledging that they have little to accomplish is the worst-case scenario. Congress has the ability to pull our combat brigades out of the most violent areas, maintain a strategic military presence in northern Iraq and bring the rest of our troops home now.

Nearly a year ago, I went to Iraq to hear firsthand from U.S. troops, military leaders and Iraqis.

This is what I heard from our military commanders: If the Iraqi government can't provide better security for its people in six months, U.S. troops in central and southern Iraq should leave. That time has now come and gone -- and so should our servicemen and women who are needlessly in danger.

Unfortunately, this administration refuses to listen to our military leaders or our citizens. So the question is: What will Congress do?

Congress has the constitutional ability and the moral responsibility to pass legislation cutting off funding for the status quo.

Not one soldier will or should be deprived of ammunition or armor.

A modest number of peacekeeping troops would temporarily remain in northern Iraq, protect civilians against sectarian violence, discourage Iran from border incursions and help maintain regional stability -- without recklessly endangering American lives.

As governor, I called 43 Iowa families after their loved ones had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. These soldiers and their families made a tremendous sacrifice to protect our freedom and help keep America safe. Make no mistake, our soldiers have done the job they were asked to do, and they have done it well. But too many of these patriots have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Supporting a cap on troops is really just support for staying the course with a failed policy. A toothless congressional resolution is meaningless. And a delay in congressional action will guarantee that more American soldiers will die.

Those who voted for the war, those who voted to continue to support the war and those who voted to continue funding the war can all surely vote to stop the war and do what's right for our military personnel and nation.

Not in 2008 or 2009, but now.

The writer, a former governor of Iowa, is a Democratic candidate for president.

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