War in Iraq, The

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the 117th Annual Convention

of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

San Diego, CA

June, 2006


The war in Iraq is clearly one of the most challenging moral issues facing America.

A brutal dictator has been removed and is now being tried by a national tribunal for mass murder. Consequently, Iraq has seen movement toward democracy and toward freedom of press and speech that was unimaginable just a few years ago. A long-time destabilizing regional force has been eliminated.

However, more than 2,500 U.S. service members have lost their lives, over 17,000 others have been wounded, and scores of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and wounded. Violence in Iraq continues, with new casualties virtually every day. Resentment against the United States is breeding a new generation of insurgents and terrorists — resentment further fueled by the recent suggestion by the U.S. military that two dozen Iraqis were unjustifiably killed in Haditha on November 19, 2005 by U.S. marines. While the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Azrqawi on June 7 might slow the insurgency, the lasting impact of his death remains uncertain. Iraq is in danger of splitting into regional cantons that would provide an additional source of destabilization.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have warned that the combined resources devoted to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan weaken our ability to deal with other conflicts. [1] Recruitment to the U.S. Armed Forces is down; and, to maintain troop levels, the military has instituted a controversial “stop-loss” program (sometimes referred to as the “backdoor draft”) that extends service members’ tours of duty beyond the limits of their contracts. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spending has decreased per patient over the last decade, yet the VA continues to face budget cuts.

Moreover, the Administration has placed the burden of the Iraq War squarely and exclusively on the shoulders of our Armed Services personnel and their families. The balance of the American people have not been asked to share the burden of the conflict, either through taxation, service or sacrifices that would decrease our nation’s dependence on imported oil. As a result, most Americans are shielded from the reality that we live in a nation at war. Moreover, our Armed Services personnel may well feel abandoned and alone in their mission. Symbolic support for our troops is insufficient, and may even be interpreted as an un-American insistence that citizens not voice criticism of the war itself. History teaches, most notably in World War II and in Israel’s military successes, that a nation will be victorious at war only if all its citizens participate sacrificially.

Over the last several years, the Reform Movement has spoken out and taken action on several related issues. Prior to the invasion, the URJ advocated on behalf of a congressional resolution, introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), that would have required the Administration to return to Congress to obtain authorization prior to deploying troops to Iraq. In 2003, a CCAR Resolution emphasized prayer for the welfare of Armed Services personnel and prayer for peace. In May 2004, the Union denounced the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. The Union and other groups successfully advocated for a Senate amendment to the Defense appropriations bill prohibiting cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees. In June 2004, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution that raised concerns about the false claims on which the war was based, the abuse of prisoners, the need to be visibly and strongly supportive of our military personnel, and the need to set a clearly-defined and measurable exit strategy for the withdrawal of Coalition military personnel from Iraq. In 2005, the CCAR amplified its position, opposing torture as a means of extracting intelligence from prisoners. Twice since the war began, these concerns about the war were raised directly with the Secretary of Defense by senior Religious Action Center staff. Most recently, in November 2005, in response to a proposal from URJ congregations that the Movement address the ongoing challenges of the war, the Union adopted a resolution expressing the majority of the concerns contained in this document.

Today, we know, based on the reports of two bi-partisan commissions appointed by President Bush — the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Senator Charles Robb and Judge Laurence Silberman, and the 9/11 Commission, chaired by former Republican Governor Tom Kean and former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton — that many of the premises on which the Congress, the American public and the Reform Movement based their prescriptions were false: that no weapons of mass destruction were stored in Iraq; that there was no attempt on the part of the government of Saddam Hussein to purchase uranium from the nation of Niger during the years leading up to the invasion; [2] that there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and the events of September 11, 2001; and that there was no cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda that had led to terrorist attacks. [3] These mistakes — be they misrepresentations or misunderstandings — have significantly undermined American credibility.

Furthermore, lack of adequate planning for the aftermath of the invasion greatly aggravated the chaos and instability. Experts have widely criticized the failure to protect American forces by guarding Saddam Hussein.s ammunition dumps, weapons from which now maim and kill American soldiers; the failure to keep an Iraqi army selectively intact (as we did in Kosovo); the failure to ensure the delivery of basic services to Iraqi citizens; the refusal to accept the offers of the United Nations and individual countries that had not fought in the invasion to provide on-the-ground peacekeepers and reconstruction assistance; and, over the first three years of the war, the lack of an adequate supply of flak jackets and Armored Personnel Carriers. (Improvements have been made in this area, and Congress is currently considering steps to do better). The result has been to provide fertile ground for the insurgency.

American public opinion, and Jewish opinion in particular, has turned against the war: nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the Administration.s handling of the situation in Iraq. [4] Moreover, Americans are uneasy about the rising price tag for the war, now approaching $300 billion, diverting money and resources that are urgently needed at home. [5] Some have argued that future generations will continue to have to pay this cost, as a result of concurrent tax cuts coupled with spending of borrowed funds. Seventy percent of American Jews now describe the war as a mistake and a majority seeks to bring American troops safely and speedily home. [6]

Nonetheless, with much of Iraq’s infrastructure now undermined, the old leadership removed, and new leadership still in flux, a contentious debate on how and when the U.S. can withdraw divides the nation. Ironically, some who supported the war now think we should withdraw immediately, while some who opposed the war believe we cannot begin to leave until the situation stabilizes. Opponents of immediate withdrawal argue that the U.S. should not establish a timetable for withdrawal because if we withdraw too soon, Iraq will devolve into civil war and become a haven for terrorists. Opponents also note that if we set deadlines and then fail to meet them, we will be perceived as weak by our enemies. Supporters of a more imminent withdrawal argue that Americans and Iraqis continue to die as a result of the insurgency, and that rather than maintaining order in Iraq, the presence of the United States as an occupying power engenders resentment and resistance from the populace and creates sympathy for the insurgents to continue fighting.

Growing voices in this country are calling for fundamental changes in U.S. policy in Iraq, changes that will bring our troops home safely and soon, and promote the creation of a sovereign and peaceful Iraq. Sadly, within the organized opposition to the war there are a number of groups espousing radical, anti-Israel rhetoric (including a number of members of ANSWER — Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). In a second major coalition, United for Peace and Justice, there are fewer such voices. The absence of mainstream American Jewish organizations from this debate has created a vacuum in which other voices are manipulating messages about Jews and Israel in the context of and in opposition to the Iraq war.

The Iraqi people ratified the permanent Constitution by a referendum conducted on October 15, 2005, and parliamentary elections under that Constitution occurred on December 15, 2005. Both are critical steps in establishing a functional, stable government in Iraq. These recent events present an opportunity for the United States to establish a plan to withdraw United States Armed Forces from Iraq that would support the legitimacy of the Iraqi Government and the assumption of responsibility by Iraqi forces for security and public safety. On March 21, 2006, President Bush stated that future troop levels “will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.” Critics argue that a clear plan for a phased, tactical withdrawal is the best way to ensure the safe return of our Armed Forces personnel, who will continue to be put in harm.s way if they remain in Iraq indefinitely or are withdrawn prematurely and with inadequate organization.

As the United States enters its fourth year of war, with no end in sight, it is incumbent upon the leadership of the Reform Movement to confront these issues and take a position.

THEREFORE, the CCAR resolves to:

  • Acknowledge our earnest gratitude to U.S. and international forces and commend those Iraqis and others who have contributed courageously to building a democracy in Iraq;
  • Condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the insurgents, who have resorted to horrific violence against soldiers and civilians in an effort to undermine Iraq’s transition to democracy;
  • Commend our service women and men (and their families) who have answered duty’s call and served our nation honorably, often with valor and distinction, and who have earned our respect and gratitude and that of the American people, and support generous benefits for them, both in Iraq and at home, thus honoring those who serve our nation and fulfilling our commitments to them; and specifically to:
  • Encourage Congress to provide the resources and the Administration to guarantee that our service men and women receive appropriate flak jackets, armor and other equipment to afford them maximum protection as they carry out their mission; and

  • Demand that adequate funds be made available to the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration to ensure that United States military personnel wounded in connection with the Iraq war receive the highest quality medical care available and that they and their families are afforded the necessary support (including counseling) to cope with their injuries;

  • Call upon the Administration to ask the American people to share with our Armed Services personnel the burdens of and sacrifices required by the current war effort, through:
  • Progressive taxation that represents the actual cost of the endeavor;

  • A policy to achieve the President’s stated goal of independence from imported oil, which would require the implementation of dramatically higher standards for gasoline efficiency in motor vehicles and would also require immediate sacrifice by the American people, including a gasoline tax; and

  • Consideration of some form of national service.

  • Call upon the Bush Administration immediately to provide more transparency regarding all aspects of the war and a clear exit strategy to the American public with specific goals for troop withdrawal as soon as possible, in a way that maintains stability in the nation and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their national security;
  • Call upon Congress to:
  • Provide more diligent oversight of the war and the expenditures related to it;

  • Promote efforts to bring about, as soon as feasible, a withdrawal that supports peace and stability; and

  • Ensure that the financial burden of the war fall not just on the poor and on future generations, but be shared equitably;

  • Call for a bipartisan, independent commission to determine the lessons learned from our strategic, intelligence, planning, and implementation failures before and during the war;
  • Call on all nations, especially those in the region, to:
  • Terminate support for the insurgents and terrorists,

  • Actively support the democratically elected Iraqi government,

  • Provide tangible support, in the form of training and equipment, to facilitate the development of a professional Iraqi security force, and

  • Assist in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country;

  • Condemn, in the strongest possible terms, violations of the Geneva Conventions and other applicable laws, including torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees in U.S. custody;
  • Condemn, similarly, any unjustifiable violence on the part of the U.S. military personnel against civilian populations, and call for a thorough and open investigation of such conduct — which, if proven — diminishes the noble service of the overwhelming majority of our troops.
  • Condemn those who would use opposition to the war in Iraq as justification for anti-Israel efforts;
  • Call on its members to guide the communities they serve to:

  • Provide a venue to address these issues;

  • Advocate consistent with the principles set forth in this resolution; and

  • Adopt respectful and meaningful methods of acknowledging the contribution of our military such as the use of prayers for the welfare of service members, listing names of military personnel lost in the line of duty in Kaddish prayers or in temple bulletins, or other appropriate ways.

    [1] October 23,2005, New York Times, http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=”F10910F9385B0C708EDDA90994DD404482″

    [2] http://www.wmd.gov/report/index.html

    [3] http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf

    [4] CBS News Poll, Feb 22-26, 2006, N=”1018,” 65% of all adults responded .Disapprove. when asked: .Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handing the situation with Iraq?.

    [5] Associated Press/IPSOS poll, Sept. 16-18, 2005, N=”1,000,” 65% of adults responded that we are spending too much to fight the war and rebuild Iraq. CBS News/New York Times Poll, Sept. 9-13, 2005, N=”1,167,” 90% of adults disapprove of the U.S. cutting spending on domestic programs, like education and health care, to pay for the war with Iraq.

    [6] American Jewish Committee 2005 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion,.