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Originally published Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Five years is long enough

Five years ago last week, the United States invaded Iraq. Now we are stuck in a quagmire: 4,000 American troops have lost their lives, nearly...

Special to The Times

Five years ago last week, the United States invaded Iraq. Now we are stuck in a quagmire: 4,000 American troops have lost their lives, nearly 30,000 more have suffered serious injuries, and our military is becoming weaker by the day.

Our world-leading economy is weakening, drained by more than $500 billion spent so far and $2 billion a week in ongoing costs to taxpayers. The costs to the U.S. economy are expected to ultimately exceed $3 trillion, according to a new study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

We cannot afford to continue on this course, yet the Bush administration and its congressional allies are working to extend our occupation for another decade or more. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is slipping into a recession, major investment banks are failing, gas prices are skyrocketing toward $4 a gallon and millions of American families risk losing their homes to foreclosure.

For five years the American public has asked our leaders in Washington, D.C., how are you going to end the war in Iraq? How do we bring our troops home? How do we redirect the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on the war to solving our problems here at home? And how do we prevent the mistakes that led to this fiasco from happening again in the future?

For five years we have asked our political leaders these questions, and for five years the answers never came.

I got tired of waiting.

Over the past six months, I have worked with military and national-security experts such as retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was a predecessor of Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, to create a clear path forward for our country.

Petraeus identified the central problem a year ago: There is no military solution in Iraq. The obsession of the political right with the surge and the focus of the political left on the logistics of getting our troops out both assume that this is a military problem for which there is a military solution. That is a false assumption, and that false assumption is the biggest obstacle this country has faced in ending this war.

If we want to stop hemorrhaging money and military strength, we must change our approach to the problem and take a hard look at how we can apply our country's substantial economic, diplomatic and political strengths to solve it.

This change will require a strong coalition. In recent months, I have reached out to other congressional candidates around the country, and in Washington, D.C., we jointly unveiled the fruit of our labors: a detailed, 36-page document titled "A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq." It maps out how Congress can end the war, stabilize Iraq, correct the constitutional imbalances the war has created here at home, and prevent a mistake like this from ever happening again.

The response has been phenomenal. More than 30 House and Senate candidates from across the country have signed on — including both Democratic U.S. Senate challengers in Oregon — and the list is growing. Some of the leading minds in the national-security establishment have reviewed and endorsed the plan, including Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan, and Rand Beers, a counterterrorism expert who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes.

This plan presents a set of actions that Congress can take to convert our current military approach in Iraq to a more effective civilian one that addresses the root problems we face. It proposes using the full strength of our nation to achieve our goals and strengthen our country, and includes measures to rebuild the military, expand the capabilities of the State Department, and keep our promises to returning veterans.

We can do all of these things and save hundreds of billions of dollars that can then be used here at home addressing our growing list of urgent needs: economic stimulus, affordable health care, better schools, improvements to infrastructure. Ever wondered why there is so little federal money to replace the aging and dangerous Highway 520 Bridge? Taxpayers in my congressional district alone have sunk roughly $1.5 billion into funding the war so far — money that now can't be spent here at home.

The national media like to say that Iraq is off the table, but voters in the 8th Congressional District don't seem to have gotten that memo. The voters I talk to understand that this war is undermining our country. Five years is long enough, and $3 trillion is too much; as a nation, we simply cannot afford this misguided war any longer.

Yes, it will require more than just a plan to end this war responsibly. It will require both public pressure and political courage. It will require a real change this November in Washington, D.C. But we can end it if we summon the will, and improve the situation in Iraq and here as a result.

Darcy Burner is a candidate for Congress in the 8th Congressional District. "A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq" can be read at www.darcyburner.com

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