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Let Our Allies Contemplate What Life Will Be Without Us

By Ed Koch

Last Sunday on "Face the Nation," Bob Schieffer asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell if he agreed with the proposal for an increase in American troops in Iraq. He said, "I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppression of this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work."

Of course, Secretary Powell is right. We can never take sides in a civil war and expect to win. Militants on both sides of that civil war appear to hate us, and that includes the Shia and the Sunni. We had expected the Shia to welcome us, since they had been persecuted by Saddam Hussein when he was in power. However, any good will has been lost. The Shia, who represent 60 percent of Iraqis, are exacting vengeance upon the Sunnis for all of the persecution they inflicted upon the Shia when they ran the country under Saddam Hussein. The Sunnis, who appear to be more secular in their views, would normally be that part of the Arab population that would identify with us. But no. Even though they acknowledge American soldiers often protect them from Shia revenge, they continue to attack American military forces with roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Sunni militants also appear to be responsible for more casualties among Iraqi civilians than the Shia militias.

We should not take sides in this civil and religious war in which each side is engaged in imposing its will on the population and to establish itself as the rightful religious heir to the dynasty of the Prophet Muhammed. I assume the physical heir amongst today's descendants of the historical figures involved will be the candidate vying to be in charge of the new caliphate that these insurrectionists and terrorists see as the final outcome of the current war with the U.S. and among themselves. We should not spill the blood of American soldiers to assist one side or the other to prevail.

But I am concerned with the even more shocking statement made by Colin Powell on "Face the Nation," that the U.S. army was "about broken." No one, to the best of my knowledge, has used that kind of expression before. Imagine the satisfaction it must have given to the leaders of al-Qaeda, the leaders of the insurrection in Iraq and particularly the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his supporters who have constantly inveighed against the U.S. and predicted the disappearance of America, as well as the elimination of Israel.

If Colin Powell erred in his description of U.S. forces as being "about broken," shouldn't the Pentagon say so? Shouldn't we now know whether the army is capable of taking on, as they used to calim, two and a half wars at the same time? Did Colin Powell state the true condition of our military forces?

This week, the French government announced that it was removing its special forces from Afghanistan. They are the only French troops actually engaged in battle with the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, and they are being withdrawn. Apparently, the balance of the French troops in Kabul are not engaged in combat. The New York Sun reported on December 18th, "France is to withdraw its 200-strong special forces from Afghanistan, all of its ground troops engaged in the American anti-terror operation there, authorities announced yesterday." The article went on to state, "The decision to pull the elite troops, based in the southeastern city of Jalalabad, comes as the Taliban militias are gaining strength despite the roughly 32,800 troops in NATO's International Security Assistance Force. France has balked at sending its 1,100-strong NATO contingent outside the relatively safe Afghan capital, Kabul."

If our army is "about broken," shouldn't the NATO allies in Afghanistan be rushing in troops so as to relieve us there and allow the U.S. troops stationed there to be used to supplement our troops in Iraq? What are our NATO allies for? Haven't we spilled enough blood and treasure to protect them over the years during World War II and the Cold War to expect this modest accommodation?

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was recently in Iraq, announced, according to The New York Times, "preparations to give control of Basra, the southern city where the British military is based, to Iraqi troops were 'going well.' But he added that British troops would remain in Iraq 'until the job is done' and the Iraqi Army could stand on its own. 'We stand ready to support you in every way,' Mr. Blair said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in the Green Zone. He flew to Basra later on Sunday."

But Blair is a lame duck and is being forced to step down next year by his own party. That New Labor Party has already made clear it intends to withdraw the British troops from Iraq. Does anyone doubt that by the time they get through with their bailing out in Iraq, their troops in Afghanistan will have departed as well?

President Bush has to feel a little like Commander-in-Chief George Washington at Valley Forge. Our allies -- NATO and regional -- turned into summer soldiers. I again urge the President to say to those allies that the day of the free lunch is over. He should put them on notice that unless they come in now and help in Iraq with boots on the ground, we are getting out, perhaps adding, because our army is "about broken."

Let's convey to them our intention to pull our troops out of Europe, out of South Korea, out of Japan and wherever else they are stationed overseas. Let our allies contemplate what life will be without us at their side.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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