Iraq Study Group: A Response from “Out of Iraq” House Caucus Co-Founders Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey

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The Iraq Study Group issues its long-awaited report. Today, we host a roundtable discussion. We go to Capitol Hill to speak with Rep. Barbara Lee, the only congressmember to vote against authorizing President Bush to use military force after 9/11, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the first congressmember to call for a withdrawal from Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the Iraq Study Group issued its report Wednesday, grim news continued to emerge from Iraq: 10 more soldiers, U.S. soldiers, had died. Mortar bombs exploded in a busy Baghdad shopping district, killing 11 Iraqis. Four people died in Sadr City when a suicide bomber blew himself up on a minibus. Another 74 Iraqis died in other attacks across Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group described the current situation as grave and deteriorating, and that the Bush administration’s policies have failed across the board. The panel called for a possible withdrawal of combat troops by 2008, but recommended tens of thousands of U.S. troops stay in Iraq for years to advise and train the Iraqi army.

This is former Congressmember Lee Hamilton.

LEE HAMILTON: Our three most important recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another: first, a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly; two, prompt action by the Iraqi government to achieve milestones, particularly on national reconciliation; and, three, a new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and in the region. United States must encourage Iraqis to take responsibility for their own destiny. This responsible transition can allow for a reduction in the U.S. presence in Iraq over time.

AMY GOODMAN: The Iraq Study Group report included many other notable facts and recommendations: The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has only six fluent [Arabic] speakers out of a staff of 1,000, the U.S. government has significantly underreported the number of attacks in Iraq, and that the overall cost of the war could top $1 trillion.

Today on Democracy Now!, a roundtable discussion on Iraq. We’ll go to [Najaf] to speak with an Iraqi American, Sami Rasouli, who moved home about a year ago. We’ll speak with Anthony Arnove, author of the book Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. And Antonia Juhasz will join us from San Francisco to talk about the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on privatizing Iraq’s oil.

We will also go to Capitol Hill, where we’re joined by Democratic Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee. In January 2005, Lynn Woolsey became the first member of Congress to call for a withdrawal from Iraq. Five years ago, Barbara Lee cast the only vote in the House against authorizing President Bush to use military force against anyone associated with the September 11th attacks. The resolution passed the House 420 to one. Congressmembers Woolsey and Lee are both co-founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus in the House.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Congressmember Lee. You were the only member of Congress after the September 11th attacks to vote against using military force. Your thought on the Iraq Study Group report today?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, let me say thank you, Amy, for conducting this roundtable. And the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations are recommendations, or at least some of them, that Congresswoman Woolsey, myself, Waters have been talking about for years. Some we agree with, some we don’t agree with.

First of all, I am absolutely convinced that we must talk with Iraq’s neighbors, especially Iran and Syria. There is no way in the world that the United States could ever get out of this mess without talking to everyone in the region.

Secondly, I was pleased to see that the report recommended what we’ve been saying for a year and a half, based on my resolution of no permanent military bases. Eighty percent of the Iraqi people do not want a permanent military presence. We’re up to $400 billion now. And so, the report recommended that the president say very clearly he does not intend to have permanent military bases in Iraq. We included that amendment in the defense appropriations bill last year. It became, in essence, the law of the land, but of course we know how this administration violates the law, so we’re going to work again on trying to include it in this supplemental, unfortunately, that’s coming up.

Too many of our young men and women have died. This is a senseless war. It’s wrong. And we need to bring our troops home, and we need to bring them home now. I do not agree with the timetable that they laid out in the report. Look at how many—11 more young people died yesterday. This doesn’t make any sense. It’s immoral. It’s wrong. And so, we need to bring them home, and we need to bring them home now.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, you co-founded the Out of Iraq Caucus with Congressmember Lee. Your response to this report?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, first of all, I’d like to say that I think the group, the Study Group, was an incredible group of men and women, and the nine months they put into it, we have to respect. And I hope the president respects what they’re saying.

I agree with them totally, that—and they’re saying it loud and clear—it’s a mess. The occupation is a mess, and we need a political solution. We also need to reach out regionally to the other leaders in the region. And they—imagine, they have to tell the president of the United States to reach out to other leaders around the world? But they’re doing it. Let’s hope he pays attention to them.

I, like Barbara Lee, disagree with a timeline that adds 12 to 18 months to this occupation, because, you see, all we’re doing when we’re there is making everything worse. It’s getting worse every single day that we’re in Iraq. I want to pull out. I want to withdraw. But I want to stay in Iraq with a humanitarian effort, and I believe we could do that working with the international community.

So let’s hope the president pays attention to this study, when he is told loud and clear: You do not stay the course. It’s a political solution, not a military solution. And I would hope that we start bringing our troops home immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, your response to, well, the party leader in the House, the first woman speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, saying that calling for troops out now is—and the funding, this cutting off of funding of what is going on in Iraq now, the Iraq War, is off the table?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, let me say, we will be faced with another supplemental during the early part of the year. I have never voted for any of these funds for this war. First of all, we support our troops, and we want our troops home. You do not support your troops by continuing to put them in harm’s way, by continuing to place them in the midst of a civil war and an occupation that is killing them each and every day. And so, I will not be supporting the supplemental.

I believe that we have to stand up and support our troops, not the Halliburtons of the world. They’re stealing this money. When you look at the billions of dollars that have gone, these funds are not going to support our troops. We need to support our troops in a very real way, by bringing them home, getting them out of harm’s way. We need to support our troops by providing for the veterans’ benefits that they deserve, by enhancing the quality of life when they return by making sure that mental health and healthcare services are here for them. I believe that we need to do this, and we need to do this quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Congressmember Pelosi, the speaker of the House to be, saying that cutting off funding is off the table?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, let me just say, I believe that we should not support this supplemental. Everyone has their points of views on how we end this occupation and civil war in Iraq. I do not support the supplemental, but I have not supported it since I have been here, nor have I supported a $400 billion-plus military budget.

When you look at this military budget, we have identified—Congresswoman Woolsey and myself have identified $60 billion that could be cut: the development of Cold War era weapons systems. We have our Common Sense Budget Act. So there are some of us who believe that the military budget is no more about national security and a strong national defense, but it’s about funding military contractors and the military construction industry. So I believe that we need to begin to not only not support the war and end this occupation, but we also provide for reconstruction and redevelopment and humanitarian assistance for the Iraqis, but we need to support our troops by bringing them home.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Congressmembers Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey. They are speaking on the balcony of the Cannon Building, overlooking the Capitol. When we come back, they will also be joined by Anthony Arnove. He has written the book, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee. They are outside the Capitol Building. And we’re going to bring in now Anthony Arnove, the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. He’s also editor of Iraq Under Siege and co-editor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Anthony Arnove, your response to the report and what you think needs to happen now?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, I think the report offers only a slight correction of course for a policy that needs fundamental reversal. We need to bring the troops home, not to talk about prolonging the presence of the United States in Iraq. This report of the Iraq Study Group lays out keeping troops, not only combat troops, in Iraq until 2008, but well beyond that.

And, in effect, it continues a policy that the Bush administration has put forward, of we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up, and it suggests that there’s somehow a technical solution to the problem of Iraq, if we just had better training of the Iraqi security forces. But the problem isn’t a technical problem, it’s a political problem. The Iraqis want the U.S. troops to leave. They reject a foreign occupation. And as long as U.S. troops are there, the U.S. troops will be a source of instability and will fuel sectarian conflict, rather than dampen it, and they will fuel the kind of violence which we see escalating and getting worse every day in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And what Harry Reid is calling for, the Democratic leader in the Senate?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: He has come in and said that we should spend $75 billion more on the military. And we see also, of course, as you mentioned, Pelosi and Reid both saying that the idea of cutting off funds for this war is off the table. I think we have to put that back on the table, and we have to push for a proposal for immediate withdrawal, cutting off funds for this war.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, I know that you have to leave, but at this point, as people demand an end to the war in Iraq—and the question is what the strategy is right now—do you see as much struggling to be happening with your own Democratic Party as with the Republicans?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, I think the American people spoke. We had elections in November. The defining issue of this election was Iraq and, of course, the economy. We have to deliver on the promises that were made to the American people. And quite naturally, we’re going to have discussions, disagreements, but I think at the end of the day that our Democratic caucus will listen to the will and the voice of the people, and our caucus will come to some position with regard to Iraq.

It’s up to the president and the administration to figure out the details. They put us in this mess. That’s their job. It’s up to us to set the policy, and I think our policy should be—and I support a great, courageous man, Congressman Murtha. I support his resolution on redeployment and bringing our troops home and getting the heck out of there as quickly as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, thanks so much for joining us. Congressmember Woolsey will stay with us for a few more minutes. But, Anthony Arnove, in one piece I’m looking at today, it says a call for President Bush to reduce U.S. support to Iraq if Baghdad fails to improve security drew a sour response from Iraqi politicians, who said Washington had an obligation to back their government. It says Bassim Ridha, a top adviser to Maliki, said the White House has to support Baghdad all the way. If they don’t support the government, then it will look as if they don’t do what they preach. We need their support to go forward.

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, you have a situation where the people in Iraq who are supporting continued occupation are the people who the United States has put in positions of power. So there’s a conflict that’s emerging, where you have an Iraqi government, which is seen as collaborating with an unwanted foreign occupation, an occupation that poll after poll, including polling done by the U.S. State Department itself, shows that a majority of Iraqis, whether they’re Sunni or Shia, reject.

And so there’s people now who are allied with the United States in Iraq, and their position, their power, their privilege depends on that allegiance. The United States is the major source of security for those people, and so you have a situation where the main people today supporting continued occupation are alienating themselves from the majority of Iraqis, and that’s further destabilizing the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who also served on the Iraq Study Group. On Wednesday, she urged the country to rally around the U.S. efforts in Iraq. And we’re going to go to that in a minute. But I wanted to ask Lynn Woolsey, at this point in Congress, what do you see as the key strategy that the Democrats should adopt in ending the war in Iraq?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, the Democrats need to listen to the public. We have the majority now, because the voters said, “We want you to change what the president is doing. We want you to challenge him. We want you to correct what he’s about.” And that’s what they asked, and it was about Iraq. So the Democrats are talking about this. We know that we need to get together and be a group, supporting possibly Jack Murtha, possibly Senator McGovern—has a great book out on how to leave Iraq, and it makes wonderful sense.

But we have to remember that when I started asking the president to put together a plan to bring the troops back more than two years ago, I was vilified. And, you know, when you lead, people follow. And now the country is way ahead of the Congress. It’s our turn to catch up with the people of the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Woolsey, I want to go to this clip of one of the members of the Iraq Study Group, yes, the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR: We’ve said in the report that we agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq as stated by the president: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And to do that, we’ve made these various recommendations on a consensus basis. It’s my belief that if a large segment of our country gets behind that on a consensus basis, that it’s very likely we can move forward and make some progress toward that statement of goals. And this is not an ongoing commission. It really is out of our hands, having done what we did. It’s up to you, frankly. You are the people who speak to the American people. You’re there interpreting this and talking to America. And I hope that the American people will feel that if they are behind something in broad terms, that we’ll be better off.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. One of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations was to stress a diplomatic, as well as military, solution. This is former Secretary of State James Baker.

JAMES BAKER: The United States should promptly initiate a new diplomatic offensive, and working with the government of Iraq, should create an international Iraq support group to address comprehensively the political, economic and military matters necessary to provide stability in Iraq. That support group should include Iraq, of course, but also all of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria; the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf states; the United Nations Security Council perm five member countries; a representative of the United Nations secretary-general; and the European Union. Given the central importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict to many countries both in and out of the region, the United States must again initiate active negotiations to achieve a stable Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts and in the manner that we outlined specifically in the report.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Secretary of State James Baker, heading up the Iraq Study Group with former Congressmember Lee Hamilton. Congressmember Woolsey, this issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict being an issue that must be resolved, this came up over and over again. How do you think it needs to be resolved?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, I think, first of all, I am very critical of our administration for not being ahead of this over the last three, four years. They dropped the ball. They need to get involved with the Israel-Palestinian people, and they need to act like Bill Clinton did—get involved and care and help come to some solution and resolution in that part of the world, which will help the rest of the Arab worlds.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Arnove, your suggestion of what has to happen here, and were you surprised about the, really, centrality of this issue that was raised in this Iraq Study Group? Do you sense a shift in the establishment around the issue of Israel and Palestine?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, I think there’s a recognition right now that the United States has set back its overall standing in the Middle East, and it now faces a series of regional challenges, so that the problem can’t be isolated to Iraq. But there’s also, I think, an emphasis on the role of Iran and Syria in Iraq that is a bit distorting. It suggests that somehow the opposition that the United States is facing in Iraq isn’t indigenous, isn’t rooted in domestic grievances over the occupation, and that somehow it is being directed by outside forces, by Iran and by Syria.

Secondly, I’m also very skeptical that the kind of pressure it would take on Israel to reach some kind of settlement of the Palestinian conflict will be brought to bear by the United States. And the Bush administration has already made it very clear that they’re very skeptical of negotiations with Iran and Syria, that wouldn’t put preconditions to those negotiations that would, in effect, nullify any impact that they would have. And I think this administration has made it very clear that they’re not going to put the kind of pressure on Israel that is necessary, including talking about cutting off funding for the settlements, funding for the expansion of Israeli domination of Palestinian territories.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Jimmy Carter’s new book is making any difference? While he’s gotten on TV, the major newspapers have hardly touched it in their news pages, his book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Absolutely. I think it’s opening up a debate. And what we see happening in the country around Iraq and around the Middle East more generally and with the case of Palestine is that people nationally have a much greater awareness of the need for change than seems to be reflected in the establishment press and seems to be reflected in the debates within Congress. So I think people really are far out ahead on Iraq. They’re far out ahead on the need for a settlement in Palestine. And Jimmy Carter’s book, I think, reflects that. But it’s going to take much more mobilization and pressure to open up the debate in the establishment media and to open up the debate in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank Congressmember Woolsey for joining us. We’re going to stay with Anthony Arnove, and we’re going to head to Iraq. But I want to ask you a final question, Congressmember Woolsey, on the issue of what difference it makes now for people around the country, for constituents, to weigh in on this issue with their congressmembers?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: It makes a great difference. We know they’re ahead of the Congress on what we should be doing and that we must leave Iraq, and they need to tell their members of Congress. I hope the people of this country aren’t lulled by this report, because, you see, it’s way too late. This is too little, too late to start, all of a sudden, realizing we’ve got a disaster in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, thanks for joining us. She’s in the Cannon Building on the balcony just overlooking the Capitol, one of the co-founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, the first congressmember to call for bringing the troops home from Iraq.

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Anthony Arnove on Iraq Study Group: “Report Offers Only a Slight Correction for a Policy That Needs Fundamental Reversal”

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