Six years ago this week, President George W. Bush launched our nation into one of the most disastrous, misguided and dangerous military actions in our history - the initial invasion and proceeding occupation of Iraq.
Now, as a new administration seeks to withdraw troops from Iraq, it's essential that the media, the public and those of us in elected office hold them accountable.
This time, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for those of us who support President Obama (who himself opposed the invasion from the beginning), we must hold our Iraq policy accountable and demand answers to tough questions regarding how and when our occupation of Iraq will end.
Last month, Obama laid forth a time line for the drawdown of our military presence in Iraq. His proposal would have two-thirds of our troops home by August 2010, with the remaining force of 50,000 scheduled to leave by the end of 2011, almost three years from now. While his announcement received praise from both sides of the political aisle, it has not received an honest and frank discussion of its merits and potential faults.
Americans seem to be collectively trying to forget about Iraq, and while we appreciate the president's decision, his declaration allows us to simply move on and focus on other issues. While this reaction is understandable, it is also dangerous.
We cannot afford to ignore the enormous risks and potential sacrifices that loom ahead. As founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, our position has been clear all along. We opposed the war and occupation from the start, and we have worked day-in and day-out to end it.
We believe that ending the occupation of Iraq means redeploying all troops and all military contractors out of Iraq. It also means leaving behind no permanent bases and renouncing any claims upon Iraqi oil.
We remain concerned about the president's plan - not opposed to it, but concerned. The plan calls for 127,000 troops to stay in Iraq until the end of this year, and for 50,000 troops to remain in Iraq for another two-and-a-half years after that. We cannot imagine the need for such an enormous military commitment. How did military planners agree on such a large residual force, one which is comparable in size to our force levels in South Korea at the height of the Cold War?
What role will this transitional force play in the event that violence flares back up?
And what steps are being taken to address the 190,000 American contractors in Iraq and to dismantle our permanent bases? These questions must be addressed before we can move forward.
America's interests in Iraq and the region will best be advanced by reducing the size of our military footprint and making greater use of our other assets of national power, including diplomacy, reconciliation, commerce, development assistance and humanitarian aid.
As we solemnly mark the beginning of a seventh year of the conflict in Iraq, we not only reflect on the incredible sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the military, but also demand an honest assessment of the potential future obstacles that their brothers and sisters in arms will face.
We urge everyone to remain engaged and continue to aggressively question Iraq war policy. This includes Republicans, Democrats, independents and, especially, the news media. We must all be willing to ask the hard questions as we work toward the common goal of ending the war and occupation, redeploying all American troops and military contractors out of Iraq and reuniting them with their families and loved ones.
As Obama has said, "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in."