George McGovern’s Return to Capitol Hill

Former Senator and U.S. presidential candidate George McGovern came to Capitol Hill to advocate for a responsible exit from Iraq. He spoke at an event organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus of staffers and advocates on November 16, 2006 in the Congress. He was joined by his colleague and co-author, Professor William Polk, who has broad foreign policy experience, particular understanding of insurgencies to occupation as well as expertise on Iraq, a country he first visited in 1946.

McGovern said they wrote their book, “Out of Iraq,” in order to “try and bring American policy closer to reality.” Both had been on the lecture circuit and saw that Americans recognized that “Iraq was a disastrous blunder.” Further, a “substantial percentage of the U.S. military know this as well.” But, at the same time people feel trapped concluding “now that we’re there we can’t just leave.” Many people feel that if we leave things will get worse. So, they realized that what was needed was a systematic withdrawal plan that would increase the likelihood of a positive outcome and decrease the risk of increased violence.

They describe a six month plan for responsibly getting out of Iraq and providing the resources to reduce the violence after the U.S. leaves. McGovern describes it as a “down to earth disengagement plan to reduce the turbulence and reduce the hatred of the United States.” He concludes that the American occupation is the cause of much of the trouble and the violence will reduce shortly after the U.S. leaves. At the same time he notes, “we are realists and it will not solve all the problems.”

William Polk, a former Harvard and University of Chicago president who has served in various foreign policy posts in the U.S. government, is in the process of writing about twelve insurgencies throughout history. His review begins with the U.S. insurgency, also known as the American Revolution. One common denominator of these insurgencies is “when the occupiers leave the violence ends as the insurgency loses support.”

Polk pointed out that Mao Tse Tung said there are two things in guerilla war: water and fish. Fish are the fighters and the water is the people who support them. The only way to kill the fish is to take the water away. Ending an occupation takes away the water.

He pointed to the experience of the French in Algiers, where he served as a U.S. representative, after the French left, he says “there was one week of chaos and then the violence stopped.” He notes “it will not be all sweetness and light the next day, but it will settle down.” Further, whenever acknowledging the potential violence after withdrawal, it is important to note the current violence, which is escalating, of the occupation.

One of the excellent additions McGovern and Polk bring to the discussion is their effort to put the choices in perspective. They note we are spending $10 million per hour, $246 million per day in Iraq. Their program, which includes funds for a managed withdrawal, funds for rebuilding and funds for a stabilization force, would cost approximately $13.2 billion ­ compared to between $300 and $400 billion in costs for the occupation over two years. The U.S. would save 97% of the current cost of staying in Iraq. Of course, the human costs are also staggering. “Every day, every hour, increases all of these costs,” noted Polk.

Gael Murphy of Code Pink raised the point that no one in Congress ever asks the question ­ is there a relationship between the growth of the insurgency and the presence of U.S. troops. In response Polk began by noting that people do not want to face reality. But people at the Army War College have said U.S. troops are the cause of the insurgency. And, George McGovern added that the most recently released National Intelligence Estimate indicated that Iraq had become a recruitment ground for terrorists because of the U.S. presence.

Aseel Albanna of Iraqi Voices for Peace expressed the concern of many Iraqis about the existing government ­ how it was corrupt and really did not represent Iraqis ­ as well as that many Iraqis “roll their eyes” when there is discussion of the U.N. sending a peace keeping force. In response Polk pointed out that in every guerilla war the government installed by the occupiers falls when the occupying army leaves. He pointed out how Bush says that the Iraqis picked this government through elections, but this was also true with the South Vietnamese government. They were voted into office by wide margins but after the U.S. left that government disappeared. Polk expects that when the U.S. leaves there will need to be a new government. The U.S. should not try to control the selection of a new government. Iraqis are intelligent people who are capable of governing themselves. The U.S. should stay out of the process. No doubt there will be jockeying for power but a consensus will develop.

Polk believes that a division of Iraq into three countries is not realistic, but it will be up to the Iraqis to decide. While some try to draw a neat and clean map of three areas, Sunni, Shia’a and Kurd, the reality is that these areas are all mixed. He estimates one million people would be displaced by such a division. He could see up to one in ten Iraqis being forced to move. He expects such an approach would cause a great deal of violence and death.

A key thing to give people confidence is a stabilization force. This needs to be a group “hired” by the Iraqis, not to fight the insurgency, but to provide order on the roads, at schools, banks, hospitals and other key locations. In order to make the rebuilding of Iraq more effective, the U.S. also needs to provide funds to allow Iraqis to return to their country as a lot of talent and resources have left due to the violence and the occupation.

Jeff Milliard of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who had just been working on an exit strategy for his organization, asked whether U.S. reparations should be specific as suggestion by McGovern-Polk, or more general? Polk agreed that there needs to be flexibility so that we can adjust to circumstances. The reason they were specific in detailing where the funds should go was to give people an understanding about what is needed and what it will cost. He does not like the word “reparations” rather he uses the term “compensation” to more clearly describe what was needed. Further, because there are questions about the Iraqi government he suggests funds may be best sent through the World Health Organization or a UN Commission. When the details of their exit strategy are reviewed (see summary below) the extent of impact of the war and occupation is more fully realized.

Milliard also asked about taking care of returning vets. The McGovern-Polk plan includes provisions for this issue. Polk noted that there are tens of thousands of casualties that need to be cared for. Their plan states: “The veterans of the war in Iraq especially need and deserve a comprehensive rehabilitation ­ physically, mentally, educationally, and economically, including the highly successful offerings of the World War II G.I Bill of Rights.”

A lot of the remaining discussion focused on how the Democrats were elected to lead on this issue and how we can encourage that, further concerns were expressed about the Baker-Hamilton Commission. Some of the suggestions made included forming an independent commission that more represents the views of the anti-war movement, with the support of friendly members of Congress. Further, a series of forums on Capitol Hill about various aspects of the war, e.g. is the occupation a cause of the violence, will there be more violence if the U.S. leaves, would be a way to bring different perspectives to the Congress. And, a suggestion was made to send a U.S. congressional delegation to meet with refugees and bring personal stories back. This would re-humanize Iraq for Americans and hopefully make US willing to open their wallets and hearts.

There is general recognition that the most important power that the Congress has to stop the war is the power of the purse. In response to a question about the funding of the war by Paul Kawika Martin of Peace Action, Polk emphasized the importance of language ­ we are not advocating a fund cut-off, but rather a redirection of funds and a significant savings of funds. He described it as spending $3 to save $97. Spending on Iraq needs to be redirected to a managed exit, rebuilding of Iraq, providing basic services and a stabilization force. The clearest vehicle in Congress dealing with funding of the war is the McGovern Bill, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. The bill is often inaccurately described as a cut-off of funds but in reality it does not end funding for the war, rather it redirects funding for exiting and stabilizing Iraq.

Polk pointed out that President Truman was wrong when he said “the buck stops here.” In reality, he said “the buck stops with us.”


The McGovern-Polk Plan Summary and Highlights

1. Staying in Iraq is not an option. Withdrawal is not only a political imperative but also a strategic requirement. Withdrawal is not without cost (neither is staying), but it is also inevitable and we will pay costs at some point. The decision to withdraw soon will not require additional expenditures ­ on the contrary it will effect massive savings. We are not advocating “cut and run” we are urging an orderly withdrawal on a reasonable schedule that will prevent further damage to U.S. interests.

2. The Iraq government would be wise to request the short-term services of an international force to police the country during and immediately after the period of American withdrawal. Such a force should be temporary with a firm date fixed in advance for withdrawal. Our estimate is that such a force would be needed for two years during this period the force would be slowly but steadily cut back. It’s focus should be limited to public security. Such a force would be most acceptable if its composition were drawn from Arab or at least Muslim countries, as suggested by Brent Scowcoft in a Washington Post column of January 16, 2006.

3. During the period of withdrawal if the Iraqi government requests U.S. assistance the U.S. should do all it reasonably can to assit it in embodying and training a permanent national police force. Once the American troops are withdrawn, the Iraqi public is unlikely to continue to support the insurgents, so the level of combat is almost certain to fall. This has been the experience in every comparable guerilla war. The American withdrawal plan should include a provision of $1 billion to help the Iraq government create, train, and equip such a force ­ the cost of four days of the American occupation.

4. America should immediately release all prisoners of war it holds and close detention centers. Physical control of former members of the Iraqi regime who have been indicted by the Iraqi government should be made to the Iraqi government. A respected nongovernmental organization should be appointed to process claims of and pay compensation to those who have been tortured as defined by the Geneva Convention.

5. America should not encourage the growth and heavy armament of a reconstituted Iraqi army as such have frequently acted against civil governments and Iraqi citizens. The U.S. should encourage the transfer of soldiers it has already recruited to a national police force or to a national reconstruction corps. The U.S. should commit to an allocation of $500 million, the cost of two days occupation, for the training of a national reconstruction corps.

6. Withdrawal of U.S. forces must include immediate cessation of work on U.S. military bases. Fourteen so-called “enduring bases” are under construction and five are already built ­ massive bases amounting to virtual cities.

7. Americans should withdraw from the Green Zone, their vast sprawling complex in the center of Baghdad. The U.S. is spending $1 billion on its headquarters in the Green Zone, which contains or will contain some three hundred homes, Marine barracks and 21 other buildings along with its own electrical, water and sewage systems. This should be turned over to the Iraqi government.

8. Before the turnover the U.S. should buy, rent or build a “normal” embassy for a much-reduced complement of U.S. officials. This should be outside of the Green Zone so it is symbolically not part of the occupation.

9. Mercenaries (euphemistically known as Personal Security Detail) now amount to 25,000 armed men ­ a force larger than the British troop contingent ­ hired directly or indirectly by the U.S. government. They must be withdrawn rapidly and completely. The way to withdraw them is simple ­ stop the payments we make to them.

10. The U.S. must assist in digging up and destroying the land mines and unexploded ordinance and clean-up the depleted uranium in artillery shells and their targets. Much of this work should be turned over to Iraqi contractors in order to employ Iraqis but it does require professional training. The U.S. should make available a fund of $250 million ­ one day’s occupation ­ to assist in the survey and planning the removal.

11. Rebuilding should be, and can be, done by Iraqis, alleviating the socially crippling rate of unemployment. The U.S. should make a generous contribution to this effort in the form of grants and loans through the Iraqi government. This will also increase the power of the government. The U.S. should also allocate funds for survey, planning and organization of the rebuilding of the Iraq economy ­ a sum of $1 billion (four days of wartime expenditures). After this survey the U.S. and Great Britain should determine in consultation with the Iraqi government what it is willing to pay for. Parallel to reconstruction should be the demolition of the ugly monuments of warfare, i.e. dismantling and disposing of miles of concrete blast walls and wire barriers erected around American installations. Further U.S. destruction of Iraqi cultural sites, including building military installations on top of them, needs to be corrected and a fund of $250 million (one day of war) should be made available to assist in the restoration of these sites. Rebuilding should also include civic institutions where the U.S. should provide fellowships for the training of lawyers, judges, journalists, and a variety of nongovernmental social workers. This should cost $500 million (two days cost of war). Many skilled Iraqis have left their country and the U.S. should assist in encouraging their return, another $500 million should be provided for this effort.

12. An independent accounting of Iraqi funds is urgently required. This will cost approximately $100 million. If funds were misappropriated or misused they should be repaid.

13. The U.S. should make reparations to Iraqi civilians for loss of lives and property it caused. The British have already begun to do so in their zone. The U.S. already authorizes individual military units to make condolence payment of up to $2,500. This amount compares to $400,000 paid to beneficiaries of an American military casualty. If the number of unjustified deaths is 50,000 and compensation is $10,000 per person the probable total allocation would be approximately $500 million. If the number of those incapacitated is between 15,000 and 25,000 (the best we can make) and the same payment is made the total cost would be about $200 million.

14. The U.S. should not object to the Iraqi government voiding all contracts for petroleum exploration, development, and marketing made during the American occupation, so these can be renegotiated or thrown open to fair bidding.

15. The U.S. should encourage with large-scale assistance various UN agencies ­ including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the Food and Agricultural Organization ­ as well as nongovernmental organizations to help reconstitute organizations to help reconstitute the Iraqi public health system. While this is a massive undertaking the total cost of such rebuilding would only amount to eight days of the occupation, about $1.7 billion.

16. Finally, America should express its condolences for the large number of Iraqis killed, incapacitated, incarcerated, and/or tortured. A simple gesture of conciliation would go far to shift our relationship from occupation to friendship. It is a gesture without cost but with immense value.

In summary the total monetary cost of the basic program might total roughly $7.75 billion. The second tier programs would amount to approximately $5.5 billion. Assuming these programs would save the U.S. two years of occupation ­ expenditures of at least $350 billion, but more likely $400-$500 billion ­ this would be a tremendous savings to the U.S. taxpayer. And, these are just the monetary savings. Even if our estimates are unduly optimistic and the actual costs turn out to be far higher, we believe that implementing our plan for withdrawal would be perhaps the best investment ever made by our country.

Summarized from “Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now,” by George McGovern and William R. Polk, Simon and Schuster, 2006.

More information on the McGovern-Polk Plan for ending the war can be seen in an article they wrote for Harpers Magazine.

KEVIN ZEESE is executive director of Democracy Rising, www.DemocracyRising.US.

Thanks to Katherine M. Fuchs, Organizing and Policy Associate of Peace Action who shared her notes of this meeting to help this report more accurate.




Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.