Church groups call for alternatives to Bush's "unjust and unworkable" Iraq strategy

By staff writers
January 12, 2007

Peace and security in Iraq will not come from increased levels of US troops and more warring – it will be achieved only by diplomacy, political processes, reconciliation, and reconstruction, says leading Quaker agency the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

Similar reactions are coming in from church organisations across the world. Jim Wallis of Sojourners in the USA has denounced President Bush’s new plan – which ignores or contradicts the ‘rethink’ he himself called for – “a criminal escalation of an unjust war”.

On Wednesday night (10 January 2007), the American President revealed his latest strategy in a national television address. He announced an increase of 20,000 more US troops in Iraq.

Sending half a million troops for five, ten, or twenty years might, arguably, “pacify” the country, according to military advocates. But sending more troops to Iraq did not work last summer and there is no reason to believe it will work today, critics suggest.

AFSC declared: “The presence of US military forces in Iraq feeds the violent insurgency, rather than dampens it. The United States should accept now that it has a responsibility to withdraw and to adopt a policy to responsibly withdraw troops from Iraq, not increase their number.”

“We believe the US should de-escalate, negotiate, and withdraw from Iraq," said Joe Volk, executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in responding to the President's new proposal. “Sending more troops will not bring safety and security to the people of Iraq, but ending the US war in Iraq would take a step in that direction.”

In his column on the ‘God’s Politics’ weblog, leading evangelical commentator Jim Wallis added of President Bush: “When the American people make it clear in the election, and in every public opinion poll, that they want an end to the war in Iraq, he ignores them. When the central recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group is "new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts ... that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly," he ignores them. When Republican Senators across the spectrum – from Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (ME) to Sam Brownback (KS) and Gordon Smith (OR), and respected foreign policy expert Chuck Hagel (NE) – oppose his plan, he ignores them. (‘ ... a dangerously wrong-headed strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp,’ says Hagel.) When the top US military commanders in Iraq question the strategy, he replaces them.

Wallis continued: “By sending 20,000 more U.S. troops in support of a Shi’ite-dominated government, into a conflict that has become a sectarian civil war, [the President] has essentially rejected the idea of a unified Iraqi government. Today, the idea of there even being a government in Iraq is another myth of Bush rhetoric, and for the young servicemen and women who daily die, it is a cruel joke to learn we have no real partners in Iraq. There is no real commitment to ‘democracy’ among Iraq's leaders, a goal that Bush again invoked last night; there is only endless sectarian violence – with the government forces themselves acting simply as part of the tribal warfare.”

From decades of humanitarian work in conflict zones, Quakers know the devastation that war brings and the long commitment needed for healing and repair, says the American Friends Service Committee.

“For lost lives there is no repair. For the visible and less visible wounds of war, healing is long and hard. The President, who started the Iraq war based on faulty premises, now proposes to deepen U.S. involvement in the faulty belief that more violence will bring peace. He has rejected the substance of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that was mandated by Congress. His decision reflects an arrogance of power that exceeds that of the Vietnam era presidents.”

The policy is opposed not only by Christians, other faith groups and peace campaigners, but also by current and former military leaders, including two of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and General John Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command.

In November 206, Abizaid testified to the US Senate Armed Forces Committee, “I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.”

The Quakers argue that the new DemocratCongress should compel President Bush to accept the Baker-Hamilton programme of action and acknowledge that only a political solution offers Iraqis an opportunity to create a stable and sovereign nation.

The United States government should reinvigorate its neglected diplomatic efforts within Iraq and with Iraq's neighbours – including Iran and Syria – its argues. An Iraqi-led reconstruction is an essential ingredient for security in Iraq and in the region. The United States has a moral obligation to fund Iraq's rebuilding, and to ensure that funds allocated are spent responsibly.

“We are encouraged that President Bush's plan calls for 1 billion US dollars in reconstruction projects over the next year in Iraq. Sadly this does not compare to the 2 billion dollars that the United States spends each week on the occupation or the billions that were squandered on projects in the first two years after the invasion,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee.

The Muslim Association of America has also called for a “complete re-evaluation” of US foreign policy practices and objectives in the Middle East, based around a clear strategy to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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