War in Iraq:It’s up to Congress now
Shortly after the beginning of the Iraq war, I wrote a column expressing the hope for a quick victory for our troops in their battle to defeat the Saddam forces. Though I had supported the invasion of Afghanistan, I had opposed going into Iraq during the months preceding our pre-emptive attack because I did not then, nor do I now, believe the Bush claims as to that necessity. But once our troops were engaged, my opposition ceased and I offered my prayers for a quick victory to save American and Iraqi lives.
My prayers were not answered. During the five years of combat so far, our military has suffered nearly 4,000 deaths and tens of thousands of wounded, and Iraqi civilians have endured hundreds of thousands of casualties. The strategy of our war planners has been devastating in its ineptness and horrifying in its consequences to the brave Americans bearing the brunt of battle.
And now, five years later with thousands of our military, dead or wounded, those who have failed so miserably in their management of this war once again claim they have a new strategy, the “surge,” that will ensure the elusive victory they have been desperately seeking. Their “surge” is the simple strategy of committing thousands more young Americans to face death and disability on the streets of Baghdad.
Not one single nation of Bush’s coalition has expressed enough confidence in this new strategy that they would agree to send a single trooper to assist us by participating in the “surge.” I believe the members of our fragile coalition of allies fighting this war were correct in their negative assessment of this new strategy.
More and more this disastrous policy resembles the tragedy of Vietnam. I recently traced my written or spoken views as a five-term congressman during the Vietnam War. In 1966 I was elected to Congress and in that campaign, Vietnam had not been a critical issue. I felt then that our political leaders in high office knew more than did their critics as to the necessity of that war. How terribly wrong I was.
It was not long after I arrived in Washington that my views on Vietnam began to dramatically change. I first voted against the war in 1967 and my opposition intensified over the years. A major event influencing my view on the war was a privately financed 1971 trip to Vietnam and Laos with my colleague and friend, then Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey. While on the ground in Vietnam or Laos, we were escorted by American officers but not led by them. The destinations we sought to visit were not pre-determined by military authorities but conveyed by us to them. Accordingly, we probably had better access to the conditions of that war than did most congressmen who, usually, were totally controlled and directed by government officials when they visited the battle grounds of Vietnam.
Each of us had been opposed to the war before that visit. Each of us came home with increased reservations as to that policy given what we had seen and heard in that war-torn country.
In June 1971, immediately after our return from Vietnam and Laos, I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. I asserted, “We ought to get out of Vietnam. We ought to get out tomorrow. The conditions on ending that war do not really concern me. I think the most important thing is to end this war.” I further testified, “The face that America has presented in Indochina is the ugliest face this nation has ever presented to the world and the way to change that face is not to remain in Vietnam.”
At the same time, I sent a newsletter to my Contra Costa County constituents. They, at that time, did not fully share my anger concerning the war. I wrote, “I will cease criticizing presidents (Johnson and Nixon). That criticism has brought little change. Now, I will criticize only Congress which has had the power to stop this war at anytime during its tragic course. Congress could have – and should have – voted to end appropriations to fund this mistaken policy. And this option still remains to Congress and its failure to act is a responsibility it alone must bear.”
The Congress was not moved by my criticism.
Over two years later, the Nixon administration finally retreated from Vietnam in 1973, conceding the inevitable that “winning” would require a cost we would not tolerate. That belated, but correct, conclusion was arrived at many years and thousands of American casualties later than should have been the case.
As I read these stated positions opposing the war in Vietnam, I am quite ready to substitute Iraq for Vietnam in each statement.
Congress should bring our troops home, tomorrow. The costs of remaining in that quagmire, including the increasing casualties and the financial drain, are not worth even the limited goals we will never attain in Iraq.
— Jerome Waldie is a former U.S. Congressman and a Placerville resident.
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