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Powell tried to talk Bush out of war

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article2042072.ece July 8, 2007 Powell tried to talk Bush out of war Sarah Baxter, Washington THE
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 8, 2007

      July 8, 2007
      Powell tried to talk Bush out of war
      Sarah Baxter, Washington

      THE former American secretary of state Colin Powell
      has revealed that he spent 2½ hours vainly trying to
      persuade President George W Bush not to invade Iraq
      and believes today’s conflict cannot be resolved by US

      “I tried to avoid this war,” Powell said at the Aspen
      Ideas Festival in Colorado. “I took him through the
      consequences of going into an Arab country and
      becoming the occupiers.”

      Powell has become increasingly outspoken about the
      level of violence in Iraq, which he believes is in a
      state of civil war. “The civil war will ultimately be
      resolved by a test of arms,” he said. “It’s not going
      to be pretty to watch, but I don’t know any way to
      avoid it. It is happening now.”

      He added: “It is not a civil war that can be put down
      or solved by the armed forces of the United States.”
      All the military could do, Powell suggested, was put
      “a heavier lid on this pot of boiling sectarian stew”.

      The signs are that the views of Powell and other
      critics of the war are finally being heard in the
      Pentagon, if not yet in the White House. Robert Gates,
      the defence secretary, is drawing up plans to reduce
      troop levels in Iraq in anticipation that General
      David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, will not be
      able to deliver an upbeat progress report in September
      on the American troop surge.

      “It should come as no secret to anyone that there are
      discussions about what is a postsurge strategy,” said
      Tony Fratto, deputy White House press secretary, last

      The surge’s lack of demonstrable success is creating
      fissures in the Republican party as well as putting
      enormous pressure on the Democratic presidential
      candidates to favour a rapid pull-out, which Gates
      fears could leave Iraq in chaos.

      New Mexico senator Pete Domenici became the third
      Republican senator in recent weeks to break ranks
      openly with Bush on the war. “We cannot continue
      asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the
      Iraqi government is not making measurable progress,”
      he said. “I am calling for a new strategy that will
      move our troops out of combat operations and on the
      path home.”

      Speculation is growing that Gates will demonstrate his
      commitment to withdrawing US forces by moving a combat
      brigade of up to 3,000 troops out of Iraq as early as
      October and continuing to reduce their numbers month
      by month from their current strength of 160,000 to
      presurge levels of around 130,000 by the summer of

      Gates believes American troop withdrawals are
      essential to building a cross-party consensus for
      retaining a presence in Iraq after Bush’s term in
      office expires. As a former director of the CIA who
      saw out the cold war in the early 1990s, he hopes to
      win the same bipartisan support for Iraq that
      President Harry Truman secured against the Soviet
      Union after the second world war.

      The policy is likely to appeal to Gordon Brown, the
      prime minister, who hopes to begin withdrawing more
      British troops from southern Iraq by the end of

      A senior defence source said it would be possible to
      reduce the number of American forces to roughly
      50,000-70,000 by election day in November 2008. “You
      are going to have to have some people left behind to
      provide stability and security for the country and
      take on the terrorists,” the source said.

      The figures are similar to those floated by aides to
      Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic
      presidential nomination, although she has been upping
      the rhetoric against remaining in Iraq in an effort to
      capture the support of party activists.

      According to Powell, the US cannot “blow a whistle one
      morning” and have all American forces just leave. The
      former secretary of state has twice met Barack Obama,
      the Democratic candidate, to advise him on foreign
      policy. Despite his antiwar stance, Obama supports a
      phased withdrawal that could leave a “significantly
      reduced force” in Iraq for “an extended period”.

      Defence experts believe it will be impossible to
      maintain the surge’s high troop levels beyond February
      at the latest, given the need to rotate and refresh
      troops. Powell, who served as chairman of the joint
      chiefs of staff in the early 1990s, said in Aspen that
      America’s volunteer army was already overstretched. He
      predicted that Bush would be forced to “face the
      situation on the ground” and alter course by the end
      of this year.

      Supporters of the surge believe this could send a
      disastrous signal to the Iraqis. “If we pull out, if
      we stop this operation now, we will hand Al-Qaeda a
      terrific victory,” said Frederick Kagan, a military
      historian at the American Enterprise Institute and an
      early advocate of the policy.

      “The Iraqi government, right now, is a terrific ally
      in the war on terror. There have been more Iraqis
      killed fighting Al-Qaeda than in any other nation of
      the world. The question is, are we going to stand by

      The same political fault line runs through the White
      House between Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office and
      the State Department � now run by Condoleezza
      Rice, Powell’s successor � as it did at the
      start of the Iraq war. Bush has not yet thrown his
      weight definitively behind one side or the other, but
      the key difference this time is that the defence
      secretary is one of the “realists”.

      According to Powell: “We have to face the reality of
      the situation that is on the ground and not what we
      would want it to be.” He believes that, even if the
      military surge has been a partial success in areas
      such as Anbar province, where Sunni tribes have turned
      on Al-Qaeda, it has not been accompanied by the vital
      political and economic “surge” and reconciliation
      process promised by the Iraqi government.

      Al-Qaeda, Powell asserted, was only 10% of the problem
      in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, its prime minister,
      lacked the political will to establish an effective
      government. After a promising start to the surge at
      the beginning of the year, 453 unidentified corpses
      were found on the streets of Baghdad last month, 41%
      more than the 321 bodies found in January, according
      to unofficial Iraqi health ministry statistics.

      The military gains could prove as fleeting in Anbar as
      Baghdad. American officers in Iraq believe Al-Qaeda
      strengthened its hold on the Sunni-dominated region in
      2005, when responsibility for security was shifted
      prematurely to Iraqi forces that were led by Shi’ites
      and proved incapable of providing protection.

      Powell believes that a reduction in US forces will
      have to be accompanied by talks with Syria and Iran.
      “You have to talk to the people you dislike most in
      this dangerous world.”

      The general and former joint chiefs of staff added:
      “Shi’ites will ultimately prevail because they are 60%
      of the population and their militias can be pretty
      violent. They will prevail also because they are
      determined not to be ruled again by the Sunnis.

      “The Sunnis are struggling for power and survival and
      it’s going to be resolved by a test of arms. It’s
      going to be very ugly.”
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