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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

COMMENTARY
'Stay the course' not working in Iraq

By U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Russ Feingold

There are differing views in the race for the U.S Senate in Hawai'i on troop withdrawal, some calling it a mistake.

The true mistake would be for the United States to continue the administration's aimless, open-ended course in Iraq. Our country desperately needs a new vision for strengthening our national security and it starts by redeploying U.S. forces out of Iraq so we can wage and win a more effective war on terror and give Iraqis the best chance to stand up for a stable Iraq.

The vote that Sens. Akaka and Inouye took supporting the Kerry-Feingold-Boxer Amendment was a dramatic step forward in forcing a Congress that shares responsibility for getting us into Iraq to take responsibility for finally getting the policy right in Iraq. It was a vote to do what's right for our troops, our country and Iraq.

A timetable will legitimize the new Iraqi government, enable the Iraqis to become more self-reliant and undermine support for the insurgency. Setting a deadline to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq is necessary for success in Iraq and victory in the war on terror. Iraqi politicians have proven they only respond to deadlines a deadline to transfer authority, deadlines to hold two elections and a referendum and a deadline to form a government. Now, we need another deadline to get Iraq up on its own two feet.

Senior American commanders have said the large U.S. military presence in Iraq feeds the insurgency. Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, testified to Congress that our large military presence "feeds the notion of occupation" and "extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant."

President Bush has repeatedly said that when Iraqis stand up we will stand down. That has not been happening. So far, the Iraqis have trained 265,600 security forces. The Bush administration's stated goal is 272,566 Iraqi security forces. Yet, just a few weeks ago, the Pentagon announced that they are sending 3,500 additional U.S. troops from Kuwait to Iraq.

Our troops have done their part; it's time for the politicians in Iraq and the United States to do their job. What Hawai'i's senators supported was a plan to undermine the insurgency by simultaneously pursuing a political settlement and the military drawdown of American forces, including the redeployment of U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by the end of 2006 leaving only essential U.S. troops to complete the mission of training Iraqi security forces.

It is true that Sens. Akaka and Inouye were two of only 13 senators to support this timetable. However, when Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) first stepped up to the challenge of leadership in the House on Iraq, he was alone. Then, recently, 140 House members voted to support his leadership. Congressman Ed Case was not one of them. When we in the Senate began the fight to change course in Iraq, we, too, were almost alone. Ending the Bush administration's disastrous approach to this war isn't about counting votes.

It isn't about legislative strategy or electoral calculation. It's about applying constant pressure to change a broken course. It's about rejecting the desperate tactics of cowardly political operatives like Karl Rove, who, as Murtha pointed out, have no qualms about telling our soldiers to "stay the course" from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices at the White House.

It's about doing what's right. Rove may worry about losing votes. It's our job to worry about young Americans losing their lives. It's our job to provide a new vision that offers real security for America while giving the Iraqis their best chance for a stable Iraq. We will keep doing what's right on Iraq, and we won't stop until our troops are home and the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people.

Half the names on the Vietnam Wall are there because politicians in Washington were too proud to admit a mistake, so they kept sending young men to stay a course they knew was not working. "Stay the course" is not a strategy for victory in Iraq and the war on terror. This administration is wrong. It is time to get Iraq right.

Sen. John F. Kerry is a Democrat representing Massachusetts, and Sen. Russell Feingold is a Democrat representing Wisconsin. They wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.