Washington, D.C. – On a very muggy, Thursday, September 15, 2005, a bipartisan Congressional “Forum” was convened at 10 AM, in Room 122 of the Cannon House Office Building. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), a strong critic of the Iraqi War.  Its purpose was to “break the silence on Capitol Hill and to discuss, ‘How to Bring the Troops Home,'” and also to help, “the Iraqis regain control over their country and their future.”
Woolsey was the first member of the U.S. Congress to call on the Bush-Cheney Gang to “develop and implement a plan to bring U.S. troops out of Iraq.” She has also urged that formal hearings be held by House committees, like the International Relations Committee and the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, in order to move this important matter forward. Her requests have been repeatedly ignored by both the White House and the GOP-controlled Congress. This is the primary reason why she had to organize today’s Forum, which included, too, a panel of five expert witnesses.
Woolsey, seated next to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), continued with her opening statement, “Some of us have dissented from the very beginning, based on the belief that the doctrine of pre-emptive war is inhuman and immoral. Others were shocked that the administration’s rationale for war turned out to be based on dubious intelligence at best and outright lies at worst. Others became disillusioned by the Abu Ghraib outrage, or the failure to outfit our soldiers with proper body and vehicle armor.”
The Chairwoman, from Northern California, pointed out that the “last straw” in her evolving opposition to the Iraqi War was the “blinding incompetence of the war effort – the failure to prevent looting; the failure to secure munition sites; the dissolving of the Iraqi army; and the lack of an effective plan to secure the peace after the end of major operations.” Woolsey continued, “The question for us today is not the ‘why’ of troop withdrawal: it’s the ‘how’…We want to fill the policy vacuum…where, frankly, Members of Congress have been slow to embrace the fresh thinking and the new approaches to Iraq that their constituents are eager to hear. For too long, for a number of reasons, this debate has been ceded to the Bush Administration, even as it has produced a bloody and ruinous debacle.”
One of the most compelling witnesses at the Forum was ex-U.S. Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA), (1997-2003), who is also a veteran of the Vietnam War.  As an Army Captain in that blood-stained conflict, in 1968, Cleland was seriously wounded by a grenade explosion. It cost him both of his legs and his right arm. He was awarded the Bronze Star and a Silver Star for gallantry in action. During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, Cleland served admirably as the youngest head of the U.S. Veterans Administration.
“In terms of the Iraq War, I agree with my distinguished former colleague and Vietnam veteran, Sen. Chuck Hagel, that the war in Iraq is beginning to look a lot like Vietnam,” Cleland began his testimony. “As a matter of fact, I feel like I am living in a time warp!” He then detailed all of the similarities between the Vietnam War and the Iraqi conflict, while labeling Vietnam as “America’s worst foreign policy defeat.” He told how watching the Iraqi conflict unfold was, for him, like seeing the same “movie all over again,” but, that this time around, he just couldn’t stand by silently, “while thousands of American soldiers risk their lives – again – for a no-win, no-end war. Our military personnel are the bravest men and women I have ever seen go into harm’s way for this country,” Cleland emphasized.
Sitting on the panel with Cleland were: Gen. Joseph Hoard (Ret. USMC), an ex-commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command; David Mack, a former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; Mr. Anas Shallal, an Iraqi-American and a Sunni Muslim, associated with the “Peace Cafe,”; Dr. Ken Katzman, a Middle East analyst; and Professor Antonia Chaves, who had served in various Pentagon-related posts under the Carter administration.
Each of the panel members proposed various scenarios for a possible U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Then, they answered questions from Chairwomen Woolsey and from other members of the House of Representatives who were present at the Forum, like: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY); Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA); Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY; Rep. Lois Capps (D-NY; Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. James McDermott (D-WA), to name just a few. Chairwomen Woolsey also make it a point in her opening statement to praise the work of California State Sen., Tom Hayden, for his “grass roots leadership” on the Iraqi War exit strategy issue. Hayden, who was seated next to me at the hearing, has long and close political ties to Maryland’s Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate – the popular Kevin Zeese.
Getting back to Cleland. He underscored in his remarks, how, “we need an exit strategy we choose or it will certainly be chosen for us. The question about Iraq is not whether we will withdraw our forces, but when? More than 100 members out of the Iraqi Parliament have urged the U.S. to fully withdraw its military forces from Iraq. It is now time to seek what international support we can get for our withdrawal. We need to map out a strategy that works for us and turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.”
After discussing the Katrina Hurricane disaster and its horrific effects on the lives of the tens of thousands of people in the Gulf Coast area, Cleland said, “We are spending more money in Iraq then rebuilding New Orleans, Biloxi, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It is time to bring our troops home-especially the National Guard that was created to guard America and to deal with disasters in our own country rather than being sent to die in the deserts in Iraq. It is time to put America first!”
I leave the final words on this excellently conceived and implemented Congressional “Forum,” to Cleland, one of the South’s finest sons, and a genuine hero of our Republic. He warned, “Iraq does not have to be another Vietnam. The war in Iraq does not have to drag on forever. It is not too late to learn from our own history. Why do I urge this course of action to our nation, now? Because I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it ends!”
Notes:. Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s edited opening remarks at the hearing can be found in a video, here: http://homepage.mac.com/bhughes2/iMovieTheater147.html . Max Cleland’s edited testimony at the hearing can be found in a video, here: http://homepage.mac.com/bhughes2/iMovieTheater148.html