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John Kerry Lays Out Plan for Iraq Pullout


We've been hearing a variety of opinions on the way the US should proceed in Iraq. Yesterday a retired Marine Corps colonel argued that American troops need to continue their mission; that leaving now would dishonor the Iraqis who are fighting for democracy. Today Senator John Kerry lays out his ideas for an exit strategy.


Our troops in Iraq are among the finest Americans who have ever served, and they're doing so heroically. But, frankly, it's long overdue for those troops to have civilian leadership equal to their sacrifice. Some people say we can't ask tough questions when our troops are in harm's way, but I learned 35 years ago in Vietnam that's exactly when we have to ask the toughest questions of all.

The current course in Iraq is not up to the challenge. When the president spoke before the Naval Academy, he didn't acknowledge the fundamental truth that our top military commander in Iraq told Congress. General Casey said 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. Richard Nixon's secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, wrote, `Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency.'

Last summer the Sovereignty Committee of the Iraqi Parliament asked for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops. And two weeks ago the Iraqi political leaders, gathered in Cario, demanded a timetable for our withdrawal.

The road to success in Iraq is to act smartly and aggressively, to reduce popular support for the insurgency. Guns alone will not end this insurgency. And no political solution can be achieved when the insurgents can use our military presence to their own sick advantage. The truth is there is no success strategy that doesn't include an exit strategy.

We're in a make-or-break period in Iraq. To get it right, we need a clear and public set of benchmarks for success, starting with 20,000 troops after the successful elections next week. And step by step, benchmark by benchmark we can get most of our combat troops out of Iraq over the course of next year.

The second major benchmark would be having a successful constitution before April, so that the Sunni insurgency is significantly diffused. Then you bring more troops home. This would send a clear message to the Iraqis and the rest of the world that we don't intend to have troops there indefinitely; that our sole purposes are training a new Iraqi military, reconstruction and rooting out terror and that it's time for Iraqis to work out a political solution and for Iraqis to stand up and fight for their own country.

President Bush should also demand that the new Iraqi government and the neighbors in the region come together for a Camp David-type summit right away after the elections. The president needs to lead, and that means sitting down and holding everyone's feet to the fire and hammering out a deal that Sunnis, Kurds and Shia can agree to.

We've already suffered the consequences in lives and dollars and loss of prestige around the world of the failure to be straight about Iraq and the failure to listen to our own military and the failure to plan. We can't afford to make these mistakes again. It's time to get it right in Iraq, and that begins by redeploying forces.

NORRIS: John Kerry is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

We've been hearing a variety of viewpoints about how the US should proceed in Iraq, and we'll have more in the coming days and weeks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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