Colin Powell said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, “I tried to avoid this war. I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.” Evidently he didn’t try hard enough… Of course we all know Bush doesn’t listen anyway. But, on that note, Powell has now discloses 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 forces.”
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”.
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.
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.
And, “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.”” Hmmm…. of course we all know around here that John Kerry has also called for talks with Syria and Iran.
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.”