Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

A Historic Error

Feb 17, 2007

Almost four and a half years ago -- Oct. 11, 2002 -- I stood on the floor of the House of Representatives along with 295 of my colleagues to vote in support of the resolution authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq. I have since regretted that vote deeply. I admitted to the residents of my district over a year and a half ago that I made a mistake, taking total responsibility for my vote. I did so because the premise on which we authorized the war in Iraq was false, the military plan for victory has been weak and more than five years after Sept.11 this war has made our nation less safe, not more so.

This last Friday I stood with a significant majority of my congressional colleagues to vote in favor of a very different resolution, one that takes a significant step toward remedying the historic mistake we made in October 2002. House Concurrent Resolution 63 states the continued support of Congress for American troops fighting in Iraq while adamantly disapproving of the President's ill-conceived plan to deploy more than 20,000 additional combat troops into harm's way. The troop escalation advocated by President Bush will only widen our involvement in this conflict and put more brave American troops in the middle of a vicious civil war. Voting in favor of the president's escalation plan would have been another historic error, one not in the interest of our "war on terror."

I stress the historic nature of this issue because I am a firm believer that history is telling of the future, especially in the prickly area of foreign affairs. The history of this war shows that President Bush can't form the right policy for victory. It is clear he should have sent additional troops to Iraq in 2003 when it was still possible to restore order in Baghdad instead of now in 2007 when violence reigns daily. History also shows that Iraq has been wracked by sectarian and ethnic division long before it was even a state, a fact conveniently ignored by President Bush and his supporters on their march to Baghdad. Our armed forces have been misused, overstretched and ill-equipped from the beginning and our military readiness to fight the ongoing "war on terror" is now in serious doubt because of this war.

Indeed, the "war on terror," with its main staging area in Afghanistan, is suffering because of the singular focus the administration has placed on Iraq. The facts are startling: for every $5 we spend in Iraq we spend $1 in Afghanistan, and because of our abdication of responsibility in Afghanistan we now see a truly dangerous revival of the Taliban regime. Equally troubling is that we now spend twice as much on Iraq as we allocate for homeland security, diplomacy and international assistance combined. Afghanistan is the first and true front in the "war on terror" and President Bush makes a strategic mistake by shifting focus away from it.

In history I see lessons as far back as 280 B.C. when King Pyrrhus of Greece defeated the Romans during the Pyrrhic War. His army suffered irreplaceable casualties in battle and when he was congratulated on his victory he replied: "Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone." We've heard the words "success" and "victory" so many times from President Bush and his allies that their message is now seen as pyrrhic – empty, fleeting. The president needs to move away from chasing pyrrhic victories and start listening to the American people, who are demanding a strategic shift away from enlarging the conflict in Iraq.

The resolution passed this week is only the first step to be taken by the new Democratic Congress to finally provide oversight and real direction for the war in Iraq. Contrary to the rhetoric from President Bush and his allies, Democrats do have a plan for success in Iraq. I have been a strong supporter of the plan introduced by my esteemed colleague Congressman John Murtha that advocates for a diplomatic surge instead of a troop surge. It would eventually redeploy our troops from Iraq and rebuild our military readiness so that our nation is ready to face the future threats of the "war on terror."

It is time for President Bush to start listening to the American people and learn from the lessons of history, otherwise our nation may be left to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.