Sarah Baxter / The Australian – 2007-07-09 00:04:22
WASHINGTON (July 9, 2007) — Former US secretary of state Colin Powell has revealed that he spent 2-1/2 hours vainly trying to persuade President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq and believes today’s conflict cannot be resolved by US forces.
“I tried to avoid this war,” Mr Powell said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. “I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.”
Mr 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. It’s not going to be pretty to watch, but I don’t know any way to avoid it. It is happening now,” he said. He added: “It is not a civil war that can be put down or solved by the armed forces of the United States.”
The signs are that the views of Mr Powell and other critics of the war are finally being heard in the Pentagon, if not yet in the White House.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates is drawing up plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq in anticipation that General David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, will not be able to deliver an upbeat progress report in September on the US troop surge.
“It should come as no secret to anyone that there are discussions about what is a post-surge strategy,” deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto said.
The surge’s lack of demonstrable success is creating fissures in the Republican Party as well as putting huge pressure on the Democratic presidential candidates to favour a rapid pullout, which Mr Gates fears could leave Iraq in chaos.
New Mexico senator Pete Domenici became the third Republican senator in recent weeks to break ranks with Mr Bush. “We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi Government is not making measurable progress,” he said. “I am calling for a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path home.”
Speculation is growing that Mr Gates will demonstrate his commitment to withdrawing US forces by moving a combat brigade of up to 3000 troops out of Iraq in October and continuing to reduce their numbers every month or two from their current strength of 160,000 to pre-surge levels of 130,000 by mid-next year.
Mr Gates believes US troop withdrawals are essential to building a cross-party consensus for retaining a presence in Iraq after Mr Bush’s term in office expires. As a former director of the CIA who saw out the Cold War in the early 1990s, he hopes to win the same bipartisan support for Iraq that president Harry Truman secured against the Soviet Union after World War II.
A senior defence source said it would be possible to reduce the number of American forces to roughly 50,000-70,000 by election day in November next year. The figures are similar to those floated by aides to Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, although she has been upping the rhetoric against remaining in Iraq in an effort to capture the support of party activists.
According to Mr Powell, the US cannot “blow a whistle one morning” and have all American forces just leave.
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